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WORLD

Security row fires Australian poll

By CNN's Grant Holloway

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Mark Latham, left, has edged ahead of John Howard in latest polling.
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SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- A political row has broken out in Australia over election campaign suggestions that Australia would consider a "pre-emptive strike" against terrorist operations in neighboring countries.

The "pre-emptive strike" scenario was floated by conservative Australian Prime Minister John Howard who is seeking a consecutive fourth term in office when the nation goes to the polls on October 9.

Labor opposition leader Mark Latham has criticized the suggestion, saying Australians would be outraged if neighboring countries planned to take such action on Australian soil.

Malaysia has been quick to reject the Australian idea while Indonesia has suggested such talk had to be viewed in the context of an election campaign.

Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said the Australian proposal would violate his country's national sovereignty.

Indonesian Ambassador to Australia, Imron Cotan, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he had been assured two years ago by Australia that it would not send troops to intervene in other countries in the region.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer attempted to play down the issue Tuesday, saying Canberra would not send any troops into Indonesia without that nation's permission.

"But imagine a situation, it's not likely to be Indonesia or a country which has a strong counter-terrorism capability, but a failed state in the South Pacific ... a situation where a terrorist was about to attack and the country involved either didn't want to, or in their case, couldn't do anything to stop it, we would have to go and do it ourselves," Downer told radio listeners.

Howard also unveiled on Monday a $70 million (Aust. $100 million) plan to base Australian counter-terrorism police teams in Southeast Asia, including in Indonesia and the Philippines.

The security debate in Australia has found renewed focus following the September 9 suicide car-bomb attack on the Australian embassy in Jakarta which killed nine Indonesians.

The impact of the issue on voting patterns is difficult to assess however, with the most recent poll suggesting a predicted filip for the incumbent Howard from the bombing has failed to materialize.

A Newspoll survey conducted September 17 to 19 shows gains for the Australian Labor Party sufficient to see it take power.

Results published Tuesday in national newspaper The Australian showed the Labor party leading Howard's coalition by 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent on a two-party preferred basis, a 5 percent increase on the last two weekly polling periods.

Under Australia's preferential voting system, votes for minor parties such as the Greens can be redistributed to major parties if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the primary vote.

This system is expected to favor the Labor party on polling day.

However, the Liberal-National coalition could still hold onto power if a handful of key marginal electorates, particularly in suburban Sydney and Queensland state, remain in its hands.


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