Australian Liberals get new leader

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SYDNEY - Frustrated by its decline in the opinion polls after months of internal brawling, Australia's opposition conservative Liberal Party yesterday sacked its leader, John Hewson, in a bid to break the political grip of the Labor government, writes Robert Milliken.

The new Liberal leader is Alexander Downer, 42, who comes from a political dynasty in Adelaide. His father, the late Sir Alexander Downer, was a former government minister and Australian High Commissioner in Britain.

Mr Downer, an Anglophile who supports the monarchy, is likely to provide a focus for opposition to Mr Keating's drive to turn Australia into a republic.

Mr Hewson, 47, will be remembered as the Liberal leader who lost the so-called 'unlosable' general election in March last year when Paul Keating confounded pundits and led Labor to an unprecedented fifth successive victory. After pledging that he would resign if he lost the election Mr Hewson stayed on, triggering a year of disputes. He called yesterday's poll himself, but lost to Mr Downer by 43 votes to 36.