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Philippines: Security of politicians tightened

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MANILA, Feb 26: The chief of the Philippines' marines was relieved of his command today as the government tightened a net around politicians and military brass it accuses of plotting to overthrow President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Senior military officers said Major-General Renato Miranda had been given a ''graceful exit'' after he became the most senior officer so far to be linked to the foiled coup.

But Marines spokesman Melquiades Ordiales said Miranda's departure was a normal change of command.

His exit came amid mounting criticism of Arroyo's crackdown on opponents and the media after she declared a state of national emergency on Friday.

''The stench of martial law has pervaded the entire country,'' said the Daily Tribune, whose offices were raided by police before dawn yesterday.

A prominent bishop of the Catholic church, which has long had an influence in affairs of the state, warned Arroyo against a slide back to the martial law of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was toppled in a ''people power'' uprising 20 years ago.

''If PGMA (Arroyo) and her gang do not show results in ...

purging all perpetrators of corruption and improving the lot of the poor, the regime will crumble faster and more miserably than the past dictatorship,'' said Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa.

The emergency allows for arrests without warrant and an extension of detention without charge.

Arroyo's office hit back at critics of the emergency rule, which former President Fidel Ramos -- a vital but unpredictable ally -- described yesterday as ''overkill''.

''Mopping up operations are ongoing,'' spokesman Ignacio Bunye said. ''The actions of the government have been well calibrated and there is no overkill. Had the president not acted as she did, we would now be under a rightist-communist junta.'' Arroyo, who survived a crisis last year over allegations of vote-rigging and corruption, accused the opposition, communists and ''military adventurists'' of conspiring to topple her.

RISK DISSIPATING

The presidential palace in Manila was still tightly guarded today, with shipping containers, barbed wire and armoured vehicles blocking the approach road.

But Arroyo went to church and the capital's streets were calm, reassuring analysts that financial markets would recover their footing after a 1 percent slide in both the peso and the main stock index on Friday's emergency declaration.

''The risk to the administration seems to be dissipating ...

we will probably see a more stable market next week,'' said Jonathan Ravelas at Banco de Oro Universal Bank in Manila.

Arroyo, an economist who has pushed reform to lift government revenues, spoke on television yesterday to shore up confidence in her handling of the debt-ridden and impoverished Asian nation.

The marines chief's exit followed the detention of the head of an elite regiment who the government said was planning to lead troops inciting crowds at anti-Aroyo rallies.

A former police chief and leftist congressman have also been detained.

ABS-CBN news said police had a list of 100 people to be arrested over the foiled plot, including former Senator Gregorio Honasan, a hero of the celebrated ''people power'' revolt.

There was biting criticism today from the media -- which Arroyo accused of ''recklessly magnifying'' her enemies' claims -- after the raid on the Daily Tribune and the appearance of troops at the country's two main broadcasters.

''We assured our friends in the media that their freedom of expression will be respected as long as they don't allow themselves to be used by elements who wanted to bring down the government,'' said police spokesman Pagdilao.

But the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said in a statement that the country, already Asia's most dangerous for journalists, now faced a serious challenge to press freedom.

''The administration wants media to present only the side of the embattled government, using force and coercion to bend journalists to its wishes,'' the NUJP said, calling on journalists worldwide to send protest letters to the government.

Professor Prospero de Vera of the University of the Philippines said a media crackdown could backfire on Arroyo.

''The decision to harass the Philippine Tribune and try to harass media outlets is a very, very dangerous gamble on the part of the president because that could undo her,'' he said.

Reuters

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