Australian PM faces leadership challenge

Australia's government was thrown into turmoil today when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was challenged by his deputy for the leadership just months before national elections.

Mr Rudd called a late-night news conference to announce that the ruling Labour Party would vote tomorrow to decide who would lead the party into the elections.

The surprise move came after Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she would challenge him for the leadership of the government.

Speculation that Mr Rudd would be toppled has gained momentum in recent weeks after a remarkable turnaround in opinion polls - converting Mr Rudd from one of Australia's most popular leaders into one in danger of losing the government after just one term.

The plunge in the polls has been largely because of domestic issues - a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign by the booming mining industry against Mr Rudd's plans for profit taxes, and his flip-flop on plans to introduce a carbon trading scheme to combat global warming.

While Australia's military contribution in Afghanistan is a sensitive topic - underscored by five Australian troops killed in recent weeks - the deployment is supported by all sides of politics and is not considered an issue on which Mr Rudd's leadership hangs.

Mr Rudd, who scored a landslide election victory against an 11-year-old Liberal government, blamed factional powerbrokers within Labour for plotting against him and vowed to fight against the challenge.

"I was elected by the people of Australia as prime minister of Australia," Mr Rudd said. "I was elected to do a job. I intend to continue doing that job."

Ms Gillard confirmed she would run against Mr Rudd in the leadership vote.

It will come just hours before Mr Rudd is to fly to a Group of 20 summit in Canada.


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