CANBERRA, March 19 (AFP) - Australian Prime Minister John Howard was forced to leave home by a back door Wednesday as anti-war protesters blocked the front gates of his official residence here.
Up to 15 Greenpeace activists protesting the government's decision on Tuesday to commit troops to a US-led invasion of Iraq moved in around dawn, chaining themselves to the gates and to four-wheel drive vehicles blocking the entrances of the residence.
They carried banners proclaiming "Howard's war -- a bloody outrage" and "John Howard -- war criminal" in a peak-hour protest that caused major traffic congestion on one of Canberra's major arterial roads.
Howard, dogged in recent days by protestors wherever he goes, came face to face with the demonstrators as he left for his early morning walk.
He challenged them when he returned, telling one: "I'm entitled to my opinion, you're entitled to yours."
Later the protesters prevented Howard leaving for nearby Parliament House by car, forcing him instead to use a pedestrian gate to reach a waiting car outside.
Police persuaded the protesters to end their protest two and a half hours later and said they would not be arrested.
Wearing blue UN berets, 10 of the protesters used bicycle locks to chain themselves underneath four-wheel drives mocked up to look like UN vehicles, and to security gates.
Greenpeace spokesman Shane Rattenbury said the protesters were symbolically placing Howard under house arrest.
"The prime minister said yesterday not to have an argument with the Australian troops and to bring the beef to him," Rattenbury said.
"That's what we have done here, we've brought it here to the PM's house to deliver the message that Australians don't want this war in Iraq.
"It's not our war. It's immoral, illegal, and Australians shouldn't be there."
The protesters said they faced no opposition as they began their action. But soon afterwards at least 20 police as well as official security guards and plain clothes security officers arrived to guard the compound, about 500 metres (1,650 feet) from Parliament House.