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Comedy team exposes security lapse

Australian officials are embarrassed as the group's motorcade breaches checkpoints near Bush's hotel.

September 07, 2007|Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA — A comedy team impersonating a Canadian government delegation -- and one member wearing an Osama bin Laden costume -- breached security cordons around the hotel where President Bush is staying, embarrassing Australian authorities.

Security in Sydney has been excruciatingly tight in advance of this weekend's summit of Asia-Pacific leaders, with most of the downtown area swathed in riot fencing.

The measures have irritated residents, and complaints about security were at the top of news broadcasts before Bush even arrived.

The comedy stunt, by an Australian state television program called "The Chaser's War on Everything," succeeded in needling authorities, who pledged even stronger security measures.

"We have 21 world leaders here, and while I enjoy, like everyone else, a good laugh, this wasn't funny," New South Wales Assistant Police Commissioner Dave Owens told the newspaper The Australian.

The comedy team members hired three black SUVs and decorated them with the Canadian and Australian flags and decals resembling those of a Canadian government delegation. They also hired a motorcycle escort.

They were ushered through two security checkpoints before they were asked to turn around about one block from Bush's hotel.

As the cars were maneuvering, Chas Licciardello, a producer and actor from the group who was dressed as Bin Laden, emerged from one of the vehicles, and the team was arrested.

"Prior to being detained, the Chaser team had no knowledge that they had entered a restricted zone," the Australian Broadcasting Corp. said in a statement reported by local media.

"The police only detained the motorcade when it was turning around and after Chas Licciardello emerged from a car dressed as Osama bin Laden."

White House officials expressed no alarm.

"That sounds absolutely hilarious," incoming Press Secretary Dana Perino said dryly.

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