Australian Prime Minister John Howard yesterday stood by his threat to consider launching pre-emptive strikes against terrorists in neighbouring countries, as criticism of his comments reached fever pitch across Southeast Asia. The pressure on Mr Howard came not only from his critics overseas. Opposition politicians at home accused him of seeking to make domestic political gain and divert attention from disastrous state election results at the weekend. Despite prompting complaints from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, Mr Howard reiterated his view that pre-emptive action could be justified to prevent an attack on Australian soil. 'I don't resile in any way from the remarks that were made [on Sunday] . . . any Australian prime minister unwilling to do that would be failing the most basic test of office,' he said. Mr Howard insisted, however, that his comments were not directed at Southeast Asian countries. On Sunday, he said that while there was no specific threat, he would consider a pre-emptive strike if evidence of an impending attack came to light. 'It stands to reason that if you believed that somebody was going to launch an attack against your country either of a conventional kind or a terrorist kind, and you had a capacity to stop it . . . then of course you would have to use it,' he said. Opposition MPs accused him of seeking to capitalise on Australia's sense of insecurity in the wake of the October 12 Bali bombings. The opposition Labor Party leader Simon Crean said Mr Howard had made the comments in order to draw attention away from Saturday's state election in Victoria, in which the prime minister's Liberal Party suffered a humiliating defeat. Senator Bob Brown of the Greens Party called on Mr Howard to withdraw the remarks. 'This is a major gaffe by a prime minister who's been caught out by jingoism,' he said.