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Australian P.M. under fire for rude remark

SYDNEY, June 23 -- Australia's Prime Minister Paul Keating Thursday was under fire for allegedly describing his nation as 'the arse-end of the Earth.'

'How can the prime minister continue to represent himself to the Australian people as the man who puts Australia first when he thinks so little of his fellow countrymen,' Opposition Senate Leader Robert Hill told the Senate.

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Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke claims in his autobiography, due to be published next month, that Keating called Australia 'the arse-end of the world.'

Keating is considered to have played a key role in Hawke's political demise in 1991.

Opposition members jumped to the attack Thursday, saying the remark demonstrated Keating's disrespect for his country.

Keating said that while he did not recall making the commment, if he did indeed make it, he was probably referring to Australia's geographical location.

He said that when he was federal treasurer under Hawke he had stressed to him and the Cabinet that if Australia wanted to attract trade from northern regions it would have to be better than anyone else because of its remoteness from these markets.

But Hawke refused to let his former ally off the hook, saying this would not be a 'reasonable explanation' for the remark.

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Hawke refused to give further details and said people would have to wait until his book is published next month.

He denied he had told friends that the allegations in his book would 'destroy' Keating politically.

During question time in the senate Thursday, Hill claimed Keating had planned to buy a villa in Switzerland and move there had he lost the last federal elections.

He also recalled that Keating once said 'the best way to see (the Northern Territory capital,) Darwin is at 35,000 feet, on the way to Paris.'

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