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Australia PM Howard calls general election

Australian Prime Minister John Howard today called a general election for November 24 that will decide the fate of his 11-year reign and whether Australia will start bringing home its troops from Iraq.

Mr Howard, Australia's second-longest serving leader, faces a tough battle to win a fifth term in office against labour party opposition leader Kevin Rudd, a Chinese-speaking former diplomat, who for months has held a commanding lead over the conservative Howard in opinion polls.

Howard's announcement marks the start of the official run-up to the elections, though both sides have been campaigning unofficially for weeks.

With Australia's coal and mineral-driven economy booming thanks to demand from China, India and elsewhere, the workplace, social affairs and global warming are the key policy battle grounds.

Australia's deployment in Iraq is a background issue, but an important one because it is an area of clear difference and affects Australia's most important foreign relationship - with the United States.

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