Nation/World

Bush’s day at Australian opera falls flat

SYDNEY, Australia – President Bush had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day at the Sydney Opera House.

He’d only reached the third sentence of Friday’s speech to business leaders, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, when he committed his first gaffe.

“Thank you for being such a fine host for the OPEC summit,” Bush said to Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

Oops. That would be APEC, the annual meeting of leaders from 21 Pacific Rim nations, not OPEC, the cartel of 12 major oil producers.

Bush quickly corrected himself. “APEC summit,” he said forcefully, joking that Howard had invited him to the OPEC summit next year (for the record, an impossibility, since neither Australia nor the U.S. are OPEC members).

The president’s next goof went uncorrected – by him anyway. Talking about Howard’s visit to Iraq last year to thank his country’s soldiers serving there, Bush called them “Austrian troops.”

That one was fixed for him. Though tapes of the speech clearly show Bush saying “Austrian,” the official text released by the White House switched it to “Australian.”

Then, speech done, Bush confidently headed out – the wrong way.

He strode away from the lectern on a path that would have sent him over a steep drop. Howard and others redirected the president to center stage, where there were steps leading down to the floor of the theater.

The event had inauspicious beginnings. Bush started 10 minutes late, so that APEC workers could hustle people out of the theater’s balcony seating to fill the many empty portions of the main orchestra section below – which is most visible on camera.

Even resettled, the audience remained quiet throughout the president’s remarks, applauding only when he was finished.



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