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Aussie foreign minister resigns in leadership rift

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image Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd

Australia’s foreign minister resigned in a bitter rift with Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who may poll party lawmakers next week on who should lead the country.
Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd announced his resignation yesterday during a news conference in Washington, where he was visiting on official business, and he said the relentless speculation that he planned to seize power from Gillard had become a distraction.
“I can only serve as foreign minister if I have the confidence of Prime Minister Gillard and her senior ministers,” Rudd said.
Gillard ousted Rudd as prime minister in June 2010 in an internal coup, and their center-left Labor Party scraped through elections later that year to lead a minority government. Polls now suggest Labor would suffer a devastating defeat, but Gillard maintains she has her colleagues’ support.
Gillard will hold a news conference Thursday to “make a further statement” on Rudd’s resignation. Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported she will announce a leadership ballot of Labor lawmakers to be held at Parliament House on Monday.
Rudd said the speculation his supporters would try to restore him to power had become a distraction.
“The truth is the Australian people regard this whole affair as little better than a soap opera and they are right,” he said. “And under current circumstances, I won’t be part of it.”
Rudd left open the option of quitting politics, which would trigger a by-election and could cost Labor its single-seat majority in Parliament. That would give the conservative opposition coalition the chance to form a new government if it can win the support of independent legislators, or it could force early elections.
In apparent anticipation of a Rudd bid for the party’s leadership, Gillard’s deputy Wayne Swan issued scathing criticism of the former prime minister.
“For too long, Kevin Rudd has been putting his own self-interest ahead of the interests of the broader Labor movement and the country as a whole, and that needs to stop,” Swan said in a statement.
“The party has given Kevin Rudd all the opportunities in the world and he wasted them with his dysfunctional decision making and his deeply demeaning attitude toward other people including our Caucus colleagues,” he added.
Labor senior strategist Bruce Hawker said he spoke to Rudd before his announcement and that Rudd is likely to challenge Gillard. Hawker said he would be a more popular prime minister, but did not speculate on whether Rudd could attract sufficient support from colleagues. “He’s popular and a lot of people feel he was badly done by in the way in which he was removed in 2010,” Hawker told ABC.
Before Rudd announced his resignation, Gillard had refused to comment on media reports that she intended to fire him as foreign minister for disloyalty. Rudd then criticized Gillard for failing to defend him from colleagues’ criticisms that he was undermining the government through his own leadership ambitions.
Gillard said she was taken by surprise by the resignation.
“I am disappointed that the concerns Mr. Rudd has publicly expressed this evening were never personally raised with me, nor did he contact me to discuss his resignation prior to his decision,” she said in the statement.
Rudd said he planned to fly back to Australia on Thursday to sort out his future. But in his resignation speech, he was highly critical of Labor’s attacks on him.
“I can promise you this: There is no way ? no way ? that I will ever be party to a stealth attack on a sitting prime minister elected by the people,” Rudd said. “We all know that what happened then was wrong and it must never happen again.”
Rudd said his duties in Washington will be fulfilled by Australia’s ambassador, Kim Beazley, a former Labor leader whom Rudd deposed in a party ballot in 2006 with the support of Gillard as his deputy.
Many Australians were angry when the government dumped Rudd, who was swept into office as prime minister by general elections in 2007. In Australia’s system, the prime minister is chosen by a majority of lawmakers in the House of Representatives, not by voters.
In 2010, Labor lawmakers moved against Rudd because opinion polls suggested they were unlikely to win elections that year under his leadership.
After the 2010 elections, Labor under Gillard formed the first minority government in Australia since World War II.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott said Rudd’s resignation confirmed that the government is unworthy to continue in office.
Abbott said only his coalition could provide a strong and stable government that would address the issues facing the country and restore hope and opportunity for all Australians.

Associated Press writer Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed to this report. AP

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