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Australia Joins US, Britain in Issuing Terror Warnings to Citizens - 2002-12-21

Australia has joined the United States and Britain in issuing renewed warnings to its citizens about possible terrorist attacks during the Christmas holiday season in Indonesia. Such warnings are becoming commonplace in Southeast Asia.

The United States has urged Americans to avoid churches, nightclubs, and shopping centers in Indonesia during Christmas. The British government updated its travel advisory regarding Indonesia, advising its citizens to exercise "extreme caution" when visiting public places.

Australia has repeated its warnings for its people to defer non-essential travel to Indonesia, including Bali, where 88 Australians were among 190 people killed in a bomb attack in October. The government in Canberra says threats against Australian interests in Indonesia remain high, particularly during the Christmas and New Year period.

Such warnings by Western governments have become routine in Southeast Asia, a region that is bearing the full brunt of international tension over a possible war in Iraq, and because of attacks by groups linked to the al-Qaida terror network.

Australian officials are stressing that the fight against international terrorism could soon include a war with Iraq. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has insisted only a dramatic change of direction by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein can prevent an armed conflict.

Mr. Downer said Iraq's response to U.N. weapons inspectors has been "very disappointing" and claimed there were "deliberate omissions in its arms declaration."

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a strong supporter of Washington's Iraq policy, believes the West is slowly heading towards a war in the Gulf.

"I think it is still more probable than not," he said. "The Americans are trying very hard to make the U.N. process work."

Australia and Canada said Friday that they would reopen their embassies in the Philippines within the next two weeks. The embassies were closed after the Australians received 'credible threats' of attacks against the missions, but the two governments say that terrorist threat has passed.

Both countries have also said they will be amending their travel advisories to allow their nationals to visit the Philippines, but with a warning to be alert and avoid areas that are considered high risk.