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Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull attends the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting in Danang, Vietnam November 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva


By Alison Bevege

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Sunday said he would discuss North Korea and Islamist terrorism as threats to regional stability, ahead of his arrival at an East Asia leaders' summit in the Philippines.

North Korea was a criminal regime and the single largest threat to the region, Turnbull told a televised news conference in Hong Kong.

"They are very cunning operators," he said, urging a tightening of economic sanctions.

Islamist terrorism in the southern Philippines is the other key security issue Turnbull aims to discuss with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Manila.

Australia said in September it would send troops to train Philippines armed forces engaged in a 154-day battle with Islamic State fighters in the southern city of Marawi, in the country's biggest security crisis in decades.

Turnbull stressed the importance of help by Indonesian President Joko Widodo in defusing Islamist extremism as the leader of the world's largest Muslim-majority country, which is also a democracy.

"He speaks with great authority when he says Islam is compatible with democracy and moderation," Turnbull added. "He's a powerful voice for moderation in the region."

Australia's embattled prime minister will attend the high-powered regional summit at the same time as a citizenship crisis at home has destroyed the parliamentary majority of his ruling centre-right coalition.

The constitution bars dual nationals from parliament, and Turnbull's government was thrown into disarray last month by a High Court ruling that five parliamentarians, including his deputy, Barnaby Joyce, were ineligible to be lawmakers.

The resignation of another MP on Saturday has left Turnbull as the head of a minority government, with his position guaranteed only by the votes of two independents.

Turnbull said he expects Joyce to be returned to Parliament following a Dec. 2 by-election.

(Reporting by Alison Bevege; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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