Australian prime minister says salute to US president was a joke

Australia's prime minister came under fire at home Friday over a playful salute he gave US President George W. Bush at a NATO summit, which critics said seemed to suggest Australian subservience to Washington. Australian television repeatedly broadcast videos of the gesture Thursday on the sidelines of the Bucharest summit and speculated about what it meant, while opposition lawmakers said it belittled Australia. "We are not the 51st state of the United States of America and Mr. Rudd's salute carried a subservient connotation many Australians won't like," said Bob Brown, leader of the minor opposition Greens pary. The salute revived memories of Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia, accusing Australia under former Prime Minister John Howard of being too close to Bush and too willing to adopt hawkish US foreign policy. Rudd explained that he was just being friendly toward a world leader whom he had met for the first time as prime minister a week earlier in Washington.