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Philippines declares emergency rule

President Gloria Arroyo declared in a televised address that she had foiled a coup bid and called for public support.

india Updated: Feb 24, 2006 11:21 IST

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared a state of emergency on Friday as she struggled with a reported coup plot and a possible repeat of the popular revolts that ousted two of her predecessors.

Clashes erupted as police used water cannons to disperse about 5,000 protesters defying a ban on rallying at a shrine to the 1986 "people power" uprising that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

The military barricaded its camps to keep troops from joining the demonstrations and detained an army general allegedly involved in the takeover plot.

Arroyo, who survived two earlier coup attempts, said her action was sparked by ongoing efforts by the political opposition, along with both the extreme left and the extreme right, to bring down the elected government.

"I am declaring a state of emergency because of the clear threat to the nation," a defiant Arroyo said in a taped, nationally televised statement.

"This is my warning against those who threaten the government: the whole weight of the law will fall on your treason. You are unhinging the economy from its strengthening pillars."

She claimed the military had quashed an effort by some military officers and their men to launch a coup.

The military has played strong roles in the two "people power" revolts and has a recent history of restiveness.

"There were a few who tried to break from the armed forces chain of command, to fight the civilian government and establish a regime outside the constitution," Arroyo said.

"We crushed this attempt. As commander in chief, I control the situation," said Arroyo, who held a pre-dawn emergency meeting of her national security council as the crisis threatened to spiral out of control. "My countrymen, I ask all of you to remain calm."

She stopped short of declaring martial law, a sensitive issue in a country where Marcos used it to rule by decree.

Her chief of staff, Mike Defensor, said the declaration will not include a curfew but does bans rallies, allows arrest without a warrant, permits the president to call in the military to intervene and lets her take over facilities -- including media outlets -- that may affect national security.

The Philippine stock market and the peso both plunged after the declaration.

US State Department spokeswoman Janelle Hironimus said, "We are monitoring the situation carefully. We firmly support the rule of law and constitutional government. Violence should be avoided."

Military chiefs said they backed Arroyo. They arrested an army general, who leads an elite special forces unit, for alleged involvement in a coup plot and ensured that a marine colonel was in his barracks.

"We have reduced the threat," army chief of staff Gen Generoso Senga said. "We cannot say that it has been stopped."

An unspecified number of other people also were taken into custody, and police were seeking eight to 10 more, said Arroyo.

Already-tight security was bolstered in the capital.

The government cancelled rally permits and told schools to call off classes, aiming to keep the opposition from exploiting the scheduled demonstrations commemorating the 20th anniversary of the peaceful revolt that ousted Marcos.

Extra barbed wire and shipping containers were set up on roads leading to Malacanang, the presidential palace, and only essential staff were allowed in.

Checkpoints appeared around the capital. Media were barred from the main military headquarters, Camp Aguinaldo, where reinforcements arrived in eight armoured personnel carriers.

An armoured personnel carrier sat outside the marines' camp, with a truckload of marines in full battle gear nearby.

Police already were on red alert nationwide as widespread reports of a coup plot have circulated for more than a week; even elementary school students were discussing it in detail.

Army chief Lt Gen Hermogenes Esperon has said 14 junior officers were identified as being involved in a plot that included establishing a revolutionary government after Arroyo was forcibly removed and abolishing "democratic institutions."

The unusual security measures included efforts to shift former President Joseph Estrada, ousted by a second "people power" revolt in 2001, from a hospital where he was taken for eye surgery on Friday back to house detention.

He has been on trial for alleged corruption. Estrada refused to leave the hospital.

Arroyo -- who succeeded Estrada in January 2001 -- survived three impeachment bids in September, when her dominant allies in the House of Representatives used a technicality to block complaints of alleged massive corruption and vote-rigging.

Opposition groups have continued to call for her resignation.

First Published: Feb 24, 2006 09:19 IST