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Tuesday, 3 December, 2002, 13:20 GMT
Asian uproar over military strike threat
Protesters shout slogans as they stage a die-in on the steps of the closed Australian embassy in Manila
Australia has caused a storm of protest
Malaysia has added its voice to a growing row in Asia after Australian Prime Minister John Howard raised the possibility of pre-emptive strikes against militants in the region.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said any unsanctioned action against groups on its soil would be considered an act of war.

We will not stand by should they attack

General Endriartono Sutarto
Indonesian military chief
But the US has backed Mr Howard's comments, in which he said he would be prepared to order pre-emptive strikes if he knew groups were planning to attack Australia.

Australia has been on a high state of alert since the October terror attack on Bali, in which about 90 Australians were killed.

Its mission in the Philippines has been closed since last week, citing a specific and credible terror threat.

Howard's defence

Mr Howard has defended his remarks, saying they simply reflected Australia's national interest and were not specifically directed at countries in the region.

Dr Mahathir on Tuesday called Mr Howard "arrogant", and said Australia stood out like a "sore thumb", trying to impose its European values on Asia.

"It is as if this is the good old days when people can shoot aborigines without caring about human rights," the prime minister said.

But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on Monday said US President George Bush "of course supports pre-emptive action".

"September 11 changed everything, and nations must respond and change their doctrines to face new and different threats," he told reporters.

Neighbours' anger

Mr Howard's remarks in a television interview on Sunday sparked condemnation from the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad
Mahathir accused John Howard of arrogance
Philippine National Security Adviser Roilo Golez called the statement "bordering on shocking" and said he would recommend that the government re-evaluated a proposed anti-terrorism agreement with Australia.

In Indonesia, where nearly 200 people died in October's nightclub bombing on the holiday island of Bali, the military chief said a pre-emptive strike by Australia would be "an act of aggression".

"We will not stand by should they attack," General Endriartono Sutarto was quoted as saying by the Jakarta Post.

Thailand also criticised Australia, saying it was capable of tackling any terror activity in its borders.

Analysts say the row could harm Australia's long-term standing in Asia, just when it most needs regional support to tackle terrorism.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Jonathan Kent in Kuala Lumpur
"The authorities here believe they have neutralised the militant threat"

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01 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
29 Nov 02 | Asia-Pacific
31 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
21 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
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