protests mark howard's arrival in auckland

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    Protests mark Howard's arrival in Auckland

    About 80 protesters armed with an inflatable bomb greeted Australian Prime Minister John Howard this afternoon when he arrived at Auckland's Whenuapai air force base for a three-day visit to New Zealand.

    The protesters, who were peaceful, held up banners which said "Stop the Genocide" and Yankee Doodle Johnny". More protesters lay under a flying inflatable bomb.

    Mr Howard and his wife Janette arrived at the base at about 2.45pm where they were met by Prime Minister Helen Clark and her husband Peter Davis.

    The trip is supposed to mark the 20th anniversary of the free trade agreement between the trans-Tasman neighbours, Closer Economic Relations (CER).

    But the CER celebrations are set to be pushed to the background because of Mr Howard's strong stance on Iraq and New Zealand's opposition to any United States-led unilateral action in the Middle East.

    A large police contingent was stationed around much of Whenuapai bases's perimeter to ensue Mr Howard's arrival was not interrupted.

    Inside the base, Mr Howard told reporters it was important for New Zealand and Australia to look at the areas about Iraq on which they strongly agreed.

    "Both of us want to see Iraq disarmed."

    Miss Clark agreed, but said her Government wanted to see the diplomatic process run its course before any action against Iraq and she felt that had a little way to run yet.

    New Zealand appreciated that the security alliance between Australia and the United States was the centre of Australian defence and foreign policy, Miss Clark said.

    That led to a difference between Australia and New Zealand.

    Mr Howard said there could be a faint hope of avoiding military conflict in Iraq if all members of the United Nations Security Council said the same thing firmly and unconditionally, possibly with the combined help of the Arab states.

    That could possibly bring about the change of heart he believed was necessary to ensure Iraq unconditionally, genuinely and co-operatively complied with UN weapons inspectors.

    Mr Howard was driven quickly past the protests outside the base to his next appointment, officially opening an Australian consulate general's office in central Auckland.

    Protesters were also expected there and at a formal reception at the Sheraton Hotel later tonight.

    Australia has about 2000 military personnel in the Persian Gulf, including SAS commandos, F/A-18 jet fighters and navy ships, as part of the United-States build-up against Iraq.

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