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Australia's prime minister marks 10 years in power

Written by: Staff
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CANBERRA, Mar 2 (Reuters) Australian Prime Minister John Howard marked 10 years in power today after the first of a series of gala dinners, showing no signs of handing over to heir apparent, Treasurer Peter Costello, unless he is ''hit by a bus''.

Howard attended a dinner at Parliament House yesterday to mark the milestone, but has been conscious of keeping the celebrations low key, saying signs of arrogance could hurt the Liberal/National coalition government.

The fit 66-year-old veteran politician, who began the day with his regular early morning walk, has repeatedly said this week that his enthusiasm for the top job is not waning and he will remain as long as his party want him.

''If I were to go under that bus -- and I am very careful crossing the roads -- (Peter Costello is) logically the person to take my place and it's a widely held view in the party,'' Howard told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

But Howard, who will attend dinners in Sydney and Melbourne on Thursday and Friday, was more coy on when he might be pushed into retirement.

''It's hard for buses to keep to schedules,'' he said.

Howard is only the second Australian prime minister to notch up 10 years in office. Robert Menzies, his political hero who founded the Liberal Party, served more than 18 years as prime minister before retiring in 1966.

A poll published in The Australian newspaper on Tuesday showed voters believed Howard has done a better job that his four predecessors going back 34 years.

Costello and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer are the only other two government ministers marking a decade in the job.

REUTERS DH RAI0453

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