Top US lawyer on Manila "Al Qaeda" blacklist - group

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MANILA, Sep 28 (Reuters) The Philippines has put rights activists, including a former US attorney-general and members of church groups, on an immigration blacklist drawn up ostensibly to stop terrorists from entering, a rights group said today.

US-based Human Rights Watch said Manila was trying to stymie criticism at a time when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is in the spotlight because of political violence against her opponents.

The blacklist labelled ''Al-Qaeda/Taliban Link'' of 504 people from 50 countries was imposed between July 25 and August 10, 2007, when Manila hosted a meeting of Southeast Asian ministers, Human Rights Watch said on its website www.hrw.org.

It included members of church groups in Europe, Australia and the United States, left-wing activists, lawyers and unionists groups.

Ramsey Clark, a former US attorney general, was among those banned from entry.

A senior immigration official confirmed that the blacklist existed, adding only that most of the names on it were ''leftists''.

''We're just implementing orders from our superiors,'' the official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.

''We really have no authority on who should be on the blacklist.

We just enforce it and if we're ordered to lift it, then we just follow it.'' Human Rights Watch said it was not clear whether any blacklist was still in effect, but Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director, urged the Philippines to stop preventing peaceful critics to enter the country.

''The Philippine government has the right and duty to protect its citizens from genuine security threat,'' Richardson said in the statement.

''But labeling peaceful critics as al Qaeda or Taliban only serves to sap public confidence in counter-terror measures and expose them as a cover for suppressing dissent.'' REUTERS SG BD1312

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