Howard to run for fifth term as PM of Australia

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The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, will fight a fifth general election, ending months of political in-fighting and speculation about his future.

Mr Howard, 67, marked a decade in power this year and is the country's second-longest serving leader. If he wins the next election, expected to be held by late next year, he will be one of the world's most successful conservative leaders.

His announcement yesterday was a blow to his deputy and Treasurer, Peter Costello, who like Gordon Brown has been waiting impatiently to take over the top job.

Reviled by a significant section of the electorate for his social conservatism, Mr Howard has proved himself a wily political operator who can tap into the fears and aspirations of middle Australia.

A close ally of President George Bush, Mr Howard has boosted Australia's international profile, sending troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, and intervening in conflicts in East Timor and the South Pacific. Critics accuse him of cosying up to the United States, while neglecting Australia's neighbours in south-east Asia.

In a letter to fellow Liberal MPs, he promised to fight the next election with "enthusiasm and vigour".