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Critics speak up as Arroyo tightens net on opponents

By Staff
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MANILA, Feb 26 (Reuters) Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo tightened the net around suspected coup plotters and opposition newspapers today amid criticism that the state of emergency declared last week smacks of Marcos-era martial law.

''The sooner we can account for those who want to overthrow the government, the sooner we can restore normalcy,'' police spokesman Samuel Pagdilao said in a radio interview.

He said there would be a fresh round of arrests, continuing the purge since Friday of alleged masterminds behind what Arroyo described as a conspiracy by members of the opposition, communists and ''military adventurists'' to topple her.

The military has detained the commander of an elite regiment as the leader of troops who were allegedly planning to incite crowds at anti-Arroyo rallies, and a former police chief and leftist congressman have been hauled in for questioning.

Manila's streets were calm yesterday, a sharp contrast to the chaotic scenes of exactly 20 years earlier when one million people stood up to army tanks, forcing dictator Ferdinand Marcos to flee in a celebrated ''people power'' revolt.

But the crisis rattled investors, sending both the peso and the main stock index 1 percent lower on Friday.

''If the weekend turns out to be peaceful, then you will see less selling pressure (on stocks) and possibly bargain-hunting,'' said Astro del Castillo, managing director at investment firm First Grade Holdings.

''But if there is bloodshed tonight or just before the market opens tomorrow, investors will continue to seek shelter.'' ''STENCH OF MARTIAL LAW'' Arroyo, who survived a crisis last year over allegations of vote-rigging and corruption, yesterday moved to shore up confidence in her handling of the debt-ridden economy.

''Our economy is improving so we won't allow the destabilisers and coup plotters to destroy our momentum,'' said Arroyo, an economist who has pushed reform to boost government revenues.

The president, who survived a crisis last year over allegations of vote-rigging and corruption, cited biased media reporting in her decision to invoke emergency rule.

The police launched a pre-dawn raid yesterday on a pro-opposition newspaper, The Daily Tribune, and troops were sent to watch over the country's two main broadcasters.

''President Arroyo and her aides may choose to call it a Declaration of the State of Emergency, but the stench of martial law has pervaded the whole country,'' the Daily Tribune said in a front-page editorial today.

''Charges will be manufactured, as evidence will be manufactured, to jail those who defy her. The Tribune will continue defying her.

We will not be cowed.'' International media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said in a statement it deplored the emergency, and charged that Arroyo was using it ''as an excuse to crack down on the opposition''.

There have been a dozen coup attempts in the last two decades, but some analysts say Arroyo's government amplifies threats to ward off plotters and shore up public support.

Max Soliven, the prominent publisher of the The Philippine Star, said in an opinion column that Arroyo must lift the state of emergency immediately or at least as soon as possible.

''She must show the world, as well as our people, that the situation is not threatening and that there was really no cause for concern,'' he said.

REUTERS SB RAI0940

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