CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia's upper house of parliament passed a symbolic vote of no confidence in Prime Minister John Howard Wednesday for his handling of Iraq, illustrating the deep divide in Australia over joining any war. |
Howard, a staunch U.S. ally, has come under attack for sending troops and approving fighter jet deployments to join U.S. and British forces in the Gulf preparing for a possible war on Iraq before the United Nations (news - web sites) process has run its course.
Opposition and minor parties, who hold the balance of power in the 76-seat Senate, joined forces to pass the upper house's first vote of no confidence in a government or leader in its 102- year history. It was a political gesture with no legal clout.
A similar censure motion proposed in the lower House of Representatives, where the conservative government holds a majority, failed by 82 votes to 63.
Leader of the left-leaning Australian Greens, Senator Bob Brown, said the Senate's motion, passed by 33 votes to 31, marked a "historic condemnation of the government."
"This is a historic vote by the Senate, albeit on party lines as such motions always are," Brown told reporters.
"John Howard has let this nation down. His gross mishandling of Australia's involvement deserved the strongest parliamentary rebuke."
But a bid by the Greens to amend the no-confidence motion to condemn any Australian involvement in Iraq, with or without a U.N. mandate, was defeated when the main opposition Labor party voted with the government.
Canberra has yet to commit itself to joining any military action in Iraq, whether U.N.-approved or U.S.-led, but Howard's decision to pre-deploy troops opened up a sharp political divide on the issue and prompted public protests.
Recent opinion polls show an overwhelming majority of Australians -- 76 percent -- oppose Australian participation in a U.S.-led war on Iraq, while 57 percent support joining military action that has U.N. backing.
About 400 anti-war protesters demonstrated outside the national parliament Tuesday as politicians, back from their summer break, began an emotional debate on Iraq, questioning Howard's unwavering support for the tough U.S. stance on Iraq.
Meanwhile a group of women in Lismore, 600 km (370 miles) north of Sydney, announced plans to follow the example of some U.S. and British protesters and strip off for peace this weekend in a "Disrobe to Disarm" protest.
Protest organizer, Australian singer Grace Knight, told Australian radio that hundreds of women were expected to bare all for an aerial photo shoot, using their bodies to spell out an anti-war message. The resulting photo will be sent to Howard.