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Manila's Arroyo considers emergency rule after plot

Written by: Staff

MANILA, Feb 24 (Reuters) Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was considering whether to declare emergency rule today after security forces claimed to have foiled a coup attempt, her chief of staff said.

Armed forces chief General Generoso Senga said the commander of the elite Scout Rangers regiment had been detained as the alleged leader of troops who planned to join protests against Arroyo by her political foes today.

The army said the rogue troops were planning to announce to the protesters that they were withdrawing support from the president, hoping this would spark an uprising against Arroyo.

''There's clear and present danger,'' Michael Defensor, Arroyo's chief of staff, told reporters, saying it was possible the president could impose a state of emergency to restore order.

The peso weakened as far as 51.91 to the dollar in early trade from its close on Thursday at 51.66. The main stock market index was down 1.55 percent.

Talk of plots against Arroyo, who survived a crisis last year over allegations of vote-rigging and corruption, has been running high around this week's anniversary of a ''people power'' revolt that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

But emergency rule -- which would allow for arrests without warrants and an extension of the time suspects can be detained without charge -- is a very sensitive issue in the Philippines after nine years of martial law under Marcos.

''We believe that we have quashed a coup,'' Lieutenant-General Hermogenes Esperon, the army chief, said on an early morning television news programme.

Before today's announcement, the army said last week it had uncovered a scheme called ''Oplan Hackle'' that would have involved a mass escape of officers on trial over failed mutiny in 2003, the ouster of Arroyo and the creation of a military junta.

''NOT SERIOUS ENOUGH'' There have been a dozen coup attempts in the Philippines in the last 20 years but some analysts suspect Arroyo's government of playing up security threats to ward off would-be plotters and gain public sympathy.

''The government is overreacting,'' said Earl Parreno of the Institute of Political and Electoral Reform. ''There may be a threat from a small faction within the army, but it's not serious enough to topple her government.'' Any tough action might boomerang on Arroyo's administration, Parreno said, adding that investors were looking for stability.

Police cancelled permits for several rallies on Friday and school classes were suspended. Security was beefed at the presidential palace and at army and police camps in Manila, and a column of tanks was sent to the main military base.

Arroyo called off a planned trip to the central Philippines.

The Scout Rangers commander, Brigadier-General Danilo Lim, had been detained previously over a coup attempt in 1989 against Corazon Aquino, who became president after Marcos was ousted.

Senior generals met during the night to assess the threat and confront the alleged plotters, Esperon said on radio.

''Through timely reaction and dialogue, they decided not to carry out their plan to join the rallies,'' he said.

Yesterday, military officials linked former army colonel and opposition senator Gregorio Honasan, hailed as a hero in the anti-Marcos uprising, to the ''Oplan Hackle'' plot against Arroyo, whose term is due to end in 2010. Honasan denied the allegations.

Arroyo, an economist, has pushed reforms to try to improve revenues, reduce corruption and cut debt but has been plagued by the allegations of wrong-doing, which led to a failed impeachment attempt in September by her foes in the lower house of Congress.

Reuters PDS VP0745

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