INTERNATIONAL

Focus on Kerry's Vietnam record

WASHINGTON, AUG. 21. The battle over the Democratic candidate, John Kerry's Vietnam War record, which has emerged in recent weeks as crucial to this year's desperately close presidential election campaign, reached a critical moment yesterday.

An anti-Kerry campaign by a group of navy veterans, accusing him of embellishing his accounts of combat and inflicting wounds on himself to win medals, has been revealed to be riddled with inconsistencies, and supported by wealthy Texans with links to the Bush family and the President's long-serving political mastermind, Karl Rove. But the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth group pressed on with its campaign yesterday by launching a television advert.

Evidence also emerged that its accusations against Mr. Kerry had drawn blood. A new CBS poll gave George W. Bush a 57 per cent to 33 per cent lead over Senator Kerry among war veterans, who had been evenly split only a fortnight ago.

Battleground

What Mr. Kerry did or did not do 35 years ago, when he was commanding a swift boat (a river patrol craft), has become the nastiest, hardest-fought battleground of the campaign over the past few weeks. Clashes a generation ago in the Mekong delta have received closer scrutiny than much of the current fighting in Iraq, and have pushed debates about the economy and healthcare off the front pages.

The Kerry campaign has found itself on the defensive on an issue it thought was an easy winner. The Democratic Party Convention in late July became a showcase for the candidate's four months in combat, to sell him as a wartime leader and inoculate him against Republican attacks labelling him "soft on defence." The implicit aim of the strategy was to force a comparison with President Bush's Vietnam War record. Mr. Bush avoided combat by joining the Texas Air National Guard and has not been able to answer questions on whether he showed up for all his flying obligations. The anti-Kerry veterans timed their move to coincide with the Democratic Convention, publishing a book and releasing a TV advert to air their claims. - Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004