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Australia Welcomes US Marines

Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith said on Wednesday that a greater U.S. military presence in the country would be a force for peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

Addressing the first batch of the 2,500 U.S. Marines who arrived in the Northern Territory city of Darwin by an overnight flight, Smith said the deployment began a new chapter in the Australian-American alliance. "This is very much an historic day," he added.

"Enhanced presence of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region in the course of this century will continue to be a force for peace, for security, for stability and for prosperity," Smith told the Marines accommodated at the Robertson Barracks on the outskirts of Darwin.

The 200-strong Fox Company of the U.S. marines is the first of the 2,500 soldiers who will eventually be stationed in Darwin under a bilateral military accord reached between U.S. President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard last year. Deployment of U.S. Marines in Australia is believed to be aimed at checking the rise of China as a regional military power.

"You are here today because more than 60 years ago Australia and the United States forged an alliance, an alliance which has served us well for over 60 years, an alliance forged in the Pacific during World War II in defense of Australia, in defense of the Pacific, in defense of the United States, in defense of democracy and freedom," Smith said.

He said U.S. Marines had a fine tradition in the Pacific and a fine tradition in Australia. "You are highly regarded and highly respected. You are very welcome here," Australian media quoted him as saying.

The official welcome ceremony was also attended by Minister for Defense Science & Personnel Warren Snowdon, Northern Territory Chief Minister Paul Henderson and U.S. Ambassador to Canberra Jeffrey Bleich.

by RTT Staff Writer

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