By GREG ANSLEY in Canberra

Prime Minister John Howard will make a last-minute bid to convince Australians to support war against Iraq in a nationally televised address tonight as protests mount against war in the Gulf.

Within hours of his announcement of the decision to join the war on Tuesday demonstrators were in the streets, plans for mass rallies across the nation were finalised, and Mr Howard was jostled as he left his Canberra residence for an early morning walk yesterday.

"Everybody hates war," he said.


"People who criticise what I'm doing think they have a moral monopoly on detestation of military conflict - but what's the alternative?"

While parliamentary debate continued into its second day yesterday - with war certain to be approved in the House but rejected in the Senate - Mr Howard, Defence Minister Senator Robert Hill and Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer blitzed radio stations hoping to turn around public opinion running strongly against the Government.

In other developments the Government:

* Rejected claims - even from within its ranks - that the risk of terrorism had increased.

* Gave new assurances Australian troops would be under national command, would refuse to strike civilian targets and would not use horrific weapons in the US arsenal.

* Launched an internal inquiry into Mr Howard's security after protesters blocked entrances to the Lodge, the Prime Minister's Canberra home.

In New South Wales, Premier Bob Carr increased anti-terrorism patrols and launched a new centre to control anti-war demonstrations around the state, alarmed at the protesters who on Tuesday painted "No War" on the Opera House.

Mr Howard's efforts to swing Australia to his point of view is expected to gain ground once Australian troops are in combat, squeezing the Opposition's ability to criticise the war and capitalising on popular support for the troops involved.


His critics have already tried to draw a clear line between goodwill for soldiers and anger at the policy of war.

But only hours away from its largest combat commitment since Vietnam, Australia remains angry and opposed to participation in an invasion of Iraq, despite wide editorial support from leading newspapers.

Only the Canberra Times and the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday attacked the commitment; Fairfax stablemates, Melbourne's Age and the Australian Financial Review joined News Ltd dailies in supporting Mr Howard.

Their view is opposed, according to a series of opinion polls, by about three-quarters of the population who reject war without United Nations sanction, and a narrower majority who oppose conflict even with UN backing.

Protests began on Tuesday at centres around Australia, from an anti-war song by 100 women in Parliament House to banner-waving demonstrators in Hobart.

On the day war erupts tens of thousands more are expected to cram the streets of capital cities and large towns, to ring the US Embassy in Canberra, and to join stopwork protests.

Unionists and socialists are urging wider industrial action, and high school students - previously mobilised for protests against globalisation and war - are being organised to take part in both mass rallies and special student protests.

Further nationwide rallies are planned for next Thursday, and for a three-day demonstration at Parliament House the weekend after next.

Organisers and supporters include celebrities, doctors, unions, students, teachers, refugee groups, and religious organisations.