Union leader says she is ready for trade sanctions against Singapore to save condemned man

The leader of Australia's trade union movement said Monday that unionists stood ready to impose trade sanctions against Singapore and urged the government to take stronger steps to save the life of an Australian drug trafficker who is to be hanged by the city-state on Friday.

But Australian Council of Trade Unions President Sharan Burrow said she was not yet ready to take unilateral action against Singapore to save Nguyen Tuong Van, 25, without the support of the wider community.

"There is no question that the death penalty is barbaric, that it is a travesty of human rights, but I don't think that the union movement, to be honest, can save this one," Burrow told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

"It needs a united front and it needs us to be far more strident, in my view, with Singapore than the government has been about how Australians will view this," she said.

"We would stand ready to take action if the nation decided to up the ante," she added.

Singapore has rejected repeated clemency pleas _ including the Australian government's _ for the Vietnam-born Australian, who was arrested at Singapore's Changi Airport in 2002 en route from Cambodia to Australia's southern city of Melbourne carrying 396 grams (14 ounces) of heroin.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said there is no hope of having the death sentence commuted to a life term after his Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong rebuffed Howard's fifth appeal for clemency over the weekend.

Howard said he had warned Lee that the execution would spawn lingering resentment between the two close allies who have been free trade partners since 2003.

The minor opposition Greens Party has urged Canberra to suspend military ties with Singapore and consider trade sanctions against Australia's largest trade and investment partner in Southeast Asia.

Burrow said industrial action to disrupt trade with Singapore could be triggered by Tuesday.

"We would say that today and tomorrow will be critical days in this debate and we'll certainly monitor them," Burrow said.

"We've always been part and parcel of any kind of national action around human rights and we'd do so again, but I think this is one where the people, where the parliamentary parties, where others have to come to a consensus about our values," she added.

Howard and senior ministers have ruled out endorsing trade sanctions, saying it would be economically harmful to both free trade partners while achieving nothing for Nguyen.

Burrow said the value of any union action would be only symbolic. She would not detail what form that action could take.

"We only have symbolic powers in the sense that we can cause some heartache and some commercial distress for companies," she said.

Howard has rejected opposition calls to send Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and opposition Labor Party foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd to Singapore to make a final bipartisan plea for clemency.

"It's not going to achieve any purpose other than perhaps raise the false expectation that something is going to change," Howard told ABC radio in an interview broadcast Monday.

The government is considering calls from church leaders and some government lawmakers to hold one minute's silence for Van Nguyen on Friday, AP reported. V.A.

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