Bush congratulates Australia's Rudd, lauds Howard

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WASHINGTON, Nov 24 (Reuters) US President George W Bush congratulated Australia's Kevin Rudd on his Labor party's election victory today, and praised the leadership of vanquished John Howard, a staunch personal and political ally.

''The United States and Australia have long been strong partners and allies and the president looks forward to working with this new government to continue our historic relationship,'' the White House said in a statement.

The new prime minister said Australia would retain its close US ties, but Rudd has also promised to withdraw troops from Iraq and sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. That would mark a shift from Howard, leader of the Conservatives, and further isolate the United States on both counts.

The White House said Bush considered Howard a ''good friend and ally'' during his tenure. More than half of Howard's 11 years in office overlapped with Bush's presidency.

''Mr Howard served the people of Australia well by pursuing policies that led to strong economic growth and a commitment to keeping Australians safe by fighting extremists and their ideology around the world,'' the White House said.

Howard boosted ties with the United States with strong support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was in the United States on September 11, 2001, when al Qaeda militants attacked New York and Washington.

His close ties with Bush prompted the media to describe him as Bush's ''deputy sheriff'' in the region.

REUTERS JT RAI2353

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