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 Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 11:03 GMT
Australia sends troops to the Gulf
HMAS Kanimbla leaves Sydney with the Harbour Bridge as a backdrop as she sails for the Persian Gulf
The troops will join a US-UK military build-up
Australia has sent its first troops to the Persian Gulf for a possible war on Iraq amid furious public protest.

Protestors gather outside the Garden Island Naval Base in Sydney as HMAS Kanimbla, back, prepares to sail
Some saw the deployment as proof Sydney would go to war

Demonstrators heckled Australian Prime Minister John Howard and defence chiefs as they said goodbye to 350 troops setting sail on Thursday from Sydney.

Mr Howard insisted the deployment did not mean that Australia had decided to support any war with Iraq, but rather that the pre-positioning of forces increased the "likelihood of (the crisis) being resolved peacefully".

But opposition parties, church and community groups, and anti-war activists condemned the move, which was made without recourse to Australia's parliament.

Nation shocked

The troops leaving on HMAS Kanimbla will comprise an eventual Australian force of about 1,500 personnel and only 150 combat troops which will join some 180,000 US and British troops already stationed in the Gulf.

The personnel on HMAS Kanimbla were to join two other Australian ships already stationed in the Gulf policing sanctions against Iraq.

They will be followed by Australian special forces commandoes who will leave from Perth on Friday.

Protests

About 150 protesters shouted "Go Yourself" to Mr Howard as he waved off the HMAS Kanimbla contingent.

"It is a monumental snubbing of the democratic processes in this country," said Greens party leader Bob Brown.

"The Howard government should know that the people are not behind him," said Gillian Deakin, the co-ordinator of Medical Association for the Prevention of War.

"This action is wrong and we are sending a very wrong message to our Muslim neighbours," she added.

Australia's response to the Bali terror attack last October, which has been widely blamed on a South East Asian Islamic militant group, has provoked tension within both its own Muslim community and its regional neighbours.

The Australian police have conducted raids on Muslim homes suspected of terrorist connections, and Mr Howard has threatened to wage pre-emptive strikes on any countries in the region suspected of harbouring terrorists.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Phil Mercer
"Weeks and possibly months of uncertainty lie ahead"
  Michelle Gratten, Sydney Morning Herald
"These troops are going without the support of the vast majority of the Australian public"

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19 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
08 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
03 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
01 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
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