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Australia's foreign minister resigns amid leadership squabble, citing lack of support from PM
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) ' Australia's foreign minister resigned Wednesday amid an ongoing leadership squabble, saying he could not continue in his role without the support of Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd announced his resignation during a news conference in Washington, where he was visiting on official business. The announcement came amid widespread speculation that he planned to seize power from Gillard.
Gillard came to power in an internal coup within the center-left Labor Party that ousted Rudd in June 2010. She became only the third prime minister since World War II to gain power in this way from an elected incumbent.
"I can only serve as foreign minister if I have the confidence of Prime Minister Gillard and her senior ministers," Rudd said. "I therefore believe the only honorable thing, and the only honorable course of action, is for me to resign."
In recent days, speculation had been mounting that Rudd supporters were planning an attempt to restore him to power soon. That had become a distraction, Rudd said.
"The truth is the Australian people regard this whole affair as little better than a soap opera and they are right," he said. "And under current circumstances, I won't be part of it."
Rudd left open the option of quitting politics, which would trigger a by-election and could cost Labor its single-seat majority in Parliament. That would give the conservative opposition coalition the chance to form a new government if it can win the support of independent legislators, or it could force early elections.
There is also the chance that Rudd could challenge Gillard for the prime minister's job as early as Monday. That would be possible if Gillard calls a party leadership vote to confirm her authority, though Gillard appears to be more popular right now.
Gillard plans on Thursday to announce a leadership ballot, Australian Broadcasting Corp. television reported.
Labor senior strategist Bruce Hawker said he spoke to Rudd before his announcement and that Rudd is likely to challenge Gillard. Hawker said he would be a more popular prime minister, but did not speculate on whether Rudd could attract sufficient support from colleagues.
"He's popular and a lot of people feel he was badly done by in the way in which he was removed in 2010," Hawker told ABC.
Before Rudd announced his resignation, Gillard had refused to comment on media reports that she intended to fire him as foreign minister for disloyalty.
Rudd then criticized Gillard for failing to defend him from colleagues' criticisms that he was undermining the government through his own leadership ambitions.
Gillard said she was taken by surprise by the resignation.
"I am disappointed that the concerns Mr. Rudd has publicly expressed this evening were never personally raised with me, nor did he contact me to discuss his resignation prior to his decision," she said in a statement.
Rudd said he planned to fly back to Australia on Thursday to sort out his future. But in his resignation speech, he was highly critical of Labor's decision to oust him.
"I can promise you this: There is no way ' no way ' that I will ever be party to a stealth attack on a sitting prime minister elected by the people," Rudd said. "We all know that what happened then was wrong and it must never happen again."
Rudd said his duties in Washington will be fulfilled by Australia's ambassador, Kim Beazley, a former Labor leader whom Rudd deposed in a party ballot in 2006 with the support of Gillard as his deputy.
Gillard maintains that she retains the support of a majority of her Labor colleagues.
Many Australians were angry when the government dumped Rudd, who was swept into office as prime minister by general elections in 2007. In Australia's system, the prime minister is chosen by a majority of lawmakers in the House of Representatives, not by voters.
In 2010, Labor lawmakers moved against Rudd because opinion polls suggested they were unlikely to win elections that year under his leadership.
Labor under Gillard scraped through the 2010 elections to form the first minority government in Australia since World War II. Polls now suggest that Labor is headed for a devastating defeat.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott said Rudd's resignation confirmed that the government is unworthy to continue in office.
Abbott said only his coalition could provide a strong and stable government that would address the issues facing the country and restore hope and opportunity for all Australians.
Associated Press writer Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed to this report.