Australian PM Julia Gillard sets general election date

Prime Minister Julia Gillard announces general election

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Australia will hold a general election on 21 August, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced.

Ms Gillard - the country's first female prime minister - said the snap poll would be "tough and close".

The governing Labor Party elected her as leader three weeks ago after ousting her predecessor, Kevin Rudd.

The race between Labor and the conservative opposition Liberal Party is expected to focus on the economy, health, climate change and immigration.

"This election is about the choice as to whether we move Australia forward or go back," Ms Gillard said in a televised speech in Canberra.

"Moving forward means moving forward with budget surpluses and a stronger economy."

She said that it also "means moving forward with stronger protection of our borders and strong plan, a real plan, that takes away from people-smugglers and the products they sell".

Opposition Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott has dismissed the recent change of the Labor leadership, saying Ms Gillard was committed to the "same dud policies" of her predecessor.

It will be the toughest fight in Ms Gillard's political life, the BBC's Phil Mercer in Sydney says.

Recent opinion polls give Labor a lead over the Liberals and Ms Gillard will be hoping to secure another three-year term, our correspondent adds.

Labor wrangles

Ms Gillard became Australia's prime minister last month after a surprise leadership vote saw Mr Rudd deposed.

Mr Rudd chose not to take part in the ballot, knowing he would suffer an embarrassing defeat to his deputy.

Labor has suffered a sharp drop in support in opinion polls this year.

A U-turn on a carbon trading scheme and a wrangle over a controversial mining tax led to a sharp slide in approval ratings for Mr Rudd's government.

Ms Gillard was born in Barry in south Wales, moving to Australia with her family at the age of four.

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