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Arroyo sticks to emergency as coup threats linger

Written by: Staff

MANILA, Mar 1 (Reuters) Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo today kept emergency rule in place as security officials warned that many plotters were still at large.

Apparently responding to criticism of the emergency from within her own cabinet and a call from the US State Department for it to be lifted as soon as possible, Arroyo promised to review the situation within three days.

''I will lift the state of emergency once I am convinced that the security officials can assure me that we are in control of the situation,'' she said in a televised address.

But the justice secretary -- one of three security officials who will report back to her by the weekend -- said he could not yet recommend ending the emergency, which gives broad powers of detention.

''I want to see that the threat is fully neutralised. There are many loose ends, to be prudent about national interest, we have to properly evaluate,'' Raul Gonzalez told reporters.

Senior military intelligence officials, who declined to be named, warned late yesterday of another possible coup attempt after rumours swirled of continued unrest among Marines over the dismissal of their commander in connection with the plot.

The army this week moved 500 special forces soldiers to the main military base in Manila to guard against what commanders said was the possibility of unauthorised troop movements.

The emergency rule was imposed last Friday after Arroyo accused members of the opposition, communist groups and ''military adventurists'' of conspiring to bring her government down.

Arroyo, who last year survived an attempt to impeach her over allegations of vote-rigging and graft, has since faced pressure from her economic team and many others to end the emergency.

''She is probably in a dilemma right now. She would probably like to extend it but she has not made that decision yet,'' said Tom Green, executive director of Manila-based Pacific Strategies&Assessments. ''It's a double-edged sword if she overplays it.'' ''BIG BROTHER'' Teachers and students from Manila's De La Salle University today held an anti-Arroyo candlelight vigil and around 50 journalists protested peacefully over threats to media freedom.

But Manila's streets have been quiet since the drama of last Friday, the eve of the 20th anniversary of the fall of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in a million-strong ''people power'' rebellion, and financial markets have more than recovered from the shock.

The peso today ended at 51.38 per dollar, close to a 3- year high, and the main stock index was up 0.58 per cent.

State prosecutors have filed formal charges against three of 16 leftists and soldiers on a police list of alleged rebels.

But the trio, including Gregorio Honasan -- a former colonel and senator who has been linked to most of the one dozen attempted coups in the Philippines over the past 20 years -- have been charged in connection with previous plots. State prosecutors have yet to file charges related to the revolt foiled last week.

Police say Honasan, known as ''Gringo'', has disappeared.

The other 14 on the police list included five leftist lawmakers who have been holed up in the lower house since Monday claiming immunity from arrest unless the police produce warrants.

''It's like being in Big Brother,'' one lawmaker said, referring to the reality TV show in which members of the public are locked in a camera-filled house.

Satur Ocampo, one of the five, said they planned to stay as long as their legal situation remained unclear.

''We sleep in one room together, bringing in our own beddings for the night and return to our offices the next morning to resume our duties as lawmakers,'' he told Reuters by mobile phone.


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