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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 October, 2003, 07:10 GMT 08:10 UK
Bush thanks Australian allies
Bush addresses Australian parliament
Bush praised Australia's peacekeeping role
United States President George W Bush has said America and Australia share a "special responsibility" for keeping peace in the Pacific region.

In a speech to the Australian parliament on Thursday, Mr Bush thanked Australia for its role in the war in Iraq and its help in the fight against global terror.

For his part, Australian Prime Minister John Howard paid tribute to Mr Bush's "character, strength and leadership" and said Australia was right to have joined America in the war in Iraq.

Mr Bush's speech was interrupted on two occasions by heckling from opposition MPs, both of whom defied a parliamentary official's order to leave the chamber.

America, Australia and other nations acted in Iraq to remove a grave and gathering danger, instead of wishing and waiting while tragedy drew closer
George W Bush

When Green Party Senator Kerry Nettle shouted protests about the US-led war in Iraq, Mr Bush smiled and said: "I love free speech".

The 18-year-old son of Mamdouh Habib, one of two Australians being held at a US military prison in Cuba without charge after the Afghan invasion, was dragged out after yelling: "Hey Bush, what about my Dad?"

Outside parliament up to 2,000 demonstrators staged protests against Mr Bush's visit as police mounted an unprecedented security operation.

Mr Bush's trip to Australia marks the last stop of his six-nation Asian tour, which took in Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia.

Security role

Addressing a special joint session of parliament, Mr Bush said Australia and the US "have a special responsibility throughout the Pacific to help keep the peace, ensure the free movement of people and capital and information, and advance the ideals of democracy and freedom".

Australia agenda:
Meeting with Prime Minister John Howard - with Iraq and the war on terror expected to top the agenda
Negotiations over a US-Australian free trade pact
Address to the two houses of parliament
Barbecue at Mr Howard's official Canberra residence

America would "continue to maintain a forward presence in Asia".

He said the US would continue to work alongside Australia and other regional allies to expand trade, fight terrorism and "keep the peace in the Taiwan Straits".

Mr Bush used his speech to warn North Korea against seeking nuclear weapons.

Such ambitions "will bring only further isolation," he said.

He added that America and Australia were working together to try to resolve the crisis.

"The wrong weapons, the wrong technology, in the wrong hands, has never been so great a danger - we are meeting that danger together," he said.

Iraq 'better off'

Mr Bush spoke of a "close partnership" between America and Australia, which he said was led by a "leader of exemplary courage".

He praised Australia for its part in the war on terror and for helping America to oust Saddam Hussein from Iraq.

"America, Australia and other nations acted in Iraq to remove a grave and gathering danger, instead of wishing and waiting while tragedy drew closer," he said.

"Who can possibly think that the world would be better off with Saddam Hussein still in power?" Mr Bush asked.

He said while "decisive victories" against terrorists had been achieved, "decisive days" still lay ahead.

"We cannot let up in our offensive against terror, even a bit," he said.

"The terrorists cannot be appeased. They must be found, they must be fought and they must be defeated."

Mr Bush later attended a barbeque at Mr Howard's official residence where guests dined on shrimps and scallops, beef fillet and lamb cutlet and macadamia pavlova roulade with passion fruit ice cream.

Also invited to the lunch were the star of the Crocodile Hunter television show Steve Irwin, former rugby union world champion John Eales and former Australian cricket captain Mark Taylor.

The BBC's Michael Peschardt
"A small but vocal group of protestors had gathered outside parliament"

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