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British leader gets laughs at Aussie’s expense

November 14, 2014

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — British Prime Minister David Cameron took a playful dig on Friday at his Australian counterpart over an obscure threat to assault the Russian president at a weekend summit here.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott raised eyebrows last month when he declared he intended to “shirtfront” President Vladimir Putin, using an Australian football term for a head-on shoulder charge to an opponent’s chest.

Abbott, an athletic 56-year-old former amateur boxer, is demanding more cooperation from Russia on the Dutch-led investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine in July by a missile suspected to have been fired by Russian-backed rebels.

Russian officials ridiculed Abbott’s threat, warning that Putin, 62, was a judo expert. Abbott tempered his language, promising a “robust discussion” when the leaders meet on the sidelines of this weekend’s G-20 weekend summit of leaders of wealthy and developing countries in Brisbane.

Cameron drew laughs in a speech to the Australian Parliament on Friday when he mentioned his trepidation at being approached by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at a recent summit in Italy.

“I wondered for a moment whether I was heading for what I’m told we now need to call a shirtfronting,” Cameron said.

To Cameron’s relief, Bishop offered him Australian staff for a British Ebola hospital at Sierra Leone.

Putin was scheduled to arrive in Brisbane on Friday for the summit.

But he and Abbott have already met since the threat on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Beijing this week.

Abbott revealed on Friday that he had told Putin this week that “Russia would be so much more attractive if it was aspiring to be a superpower for peace and freedom and prosperity.”

Instead Putin was “trying to recreate the lost glories of tsarism or the old Soviet Union,” Abbott told reporters.

Abbott highlighted the deployment of four Russian warships in international waters off the northeast Australian coast in recent days to coincide with Putin’s visit as an example of Russia becoming more assertive than it had been in years.

Australia has sent three warships to the Coral Sea to monitor them. The Russian embassy said in a statement on Friday Russia’s Pacific fleet was testing its range. The fleet could also, if necessary, provide security for Putin, the embassy said.

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