Anti-war protestors were corralled behind a 5-kilometre steel fence Tuesday as Sydney went on high alert for the arrival of US President George W Bush for this week's APEC meetings in Australia's biggest city.
Bush, who flies in after a lightning visit to Iraq, is the first leader of the 21 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum countries scheduled to arrive for a gathering where top agenda items are climate change and reviving the stalled Doha Round of global trade liberalization talks.
He has lined up private talks with the leaders of Australia, Japan, South Korea, Russia and possibly Indonesia before leaving Saturday.
A foretaste of demonstrations that will culminate in a march by up to 15,000 people on Saturday came hours before Air Force One was expected to touch down.
Around 150 anti-war protestors were outnumbered two-to-one by riot police when they gathered at Sydney's biggest railway station to chant "Israel, USA - how many kids have you killed today?" and other slogans.
"These people aren't out to just stand on the sidelines," Stop Bush Coalition spokesman Alex Bainbridge promised. "We will not be intimidated."
Prime Minister John Howard, this year's APEC host, urged demonstrators to ponder the grouping's achievements since it was set up in 1989.
"If they are so concerned about world poverty, why don't they stop for a moment and recognize that economic growth of the APEC region has lifted tens of millions of people out of poverty since APEC was founded?" he said.
Howard, a close friend of Bush who was quick to pledge troops for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, urged protestors to eschew violence and not force the hand of the 3,000 police and 1,500 troops who have locked down the city centre and barricaded venues with 2.8-metre concrete-and-steel fencing.
Hospital beds have been freed ready for the casualties of any clashes and 30 city buses have been turned into mobile police lock-ups to keep offenders from going back on the streets.
Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said his security force would brook no infringements on fortress Sydney.
"Right now, there's one priority, there's one show in town, and that's APEC," he said. "APEC must be delivered. It's the biggest security event we have had in this nation."
Bush will hold a first meeting with opposition Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd, who is well ahead of Howard in the opinion polls and looks set to win a general election expected in November.
Rudd has pledged to withdraw Australia's 1,500 troops from Iraq if he wins office.
"Mr Bush and Mr Howard have their view on Iraq and we have a different view," Rudd said, pledging to reject any blandishments during his Thursday meeting with Bush.
The day of Bush's arrival in Sydney coincided with the release of an opinion poll in which 52 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement that Bush was the worst-ever US president and 32 per cent disagreed.
"Australians are not anti-American, they are anti the policies of George Bush, particularly the invasion of Iraq," said Robert Marr, spokesman for the Medical Association for the Prevention of War, which commissioned the survey.
Howard said he was hopeful of APEC unblocking the Doha Round of trade talks and making progress on ways of abating climate change.
"You never solve all the world's problems at one meeting and it's always a mistake to say that unless this meeting achieves A, B and C it's a total failure," the prime minister said. "If we can get some consensus on a way forward on climate change out of a body including America, Russia and China, that's a huge step forward."
But Howard said the grouping would not agree with the Europeans and set Kyoto-style binding agreements to reduce the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. All he is holding out hope for is the adoption of a "long-term aspirational goal" of reducing emissions.
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"The key task in Sydney is to give political direction to the shape of a future framework for climate change that is truly global," Howard said. "At APEC we should strive to find agreement on principles for international action that genuinely address the problem, whilst allowing countries such as China and Indonesia to continue to grow and prosper."
Australia is the world's biggest coal exporter and last month China unseated Japan to become its biggest trade partner.
Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the US and Vietnam comprise APEC, which represents half of world trade, a third of its population and 60 per cent of the output of goods and services.