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Accused Philippine coup plotter fears for his life

Written by: Staff
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MANILA, Mar 17 (Reuters) Gregorio ''Gringo'' Honasan, a former Philippine colonel and senator accused of masterminding a coup plot last month, will not surrender unless his safety is assured, a lawyer linked to the opposition said today.

Prosecutors want to question Honasan, hailed as a hero of the ''people power'' uprising that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, over an alleged conspiracy to overthrow President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo by rogue troops, political foes and communists.

Honasan has been in hiding since February 23, the eve of planned protests by leftist activists against Arroyo that the government has said were to be used by some soldiers to withdraw support for the president and spark an uprising against her.

Arroyo imposed emergency rule to contain the alleged plot, ending it after one week on March 3.

One leftist lawmaker, Crispin Beltran, has been detained on rebellion charges since February 25 and five others have taken refuge in Congress, demanding police produce arrest warrants.

One member of the elite Scout Rangers regiment also faces rebellion charges.

Oliver Lozano, a lawyer for former First Lady Imelda Marcos, distributed a letter, signed ''Gringo'', that he said he found on the doorstep of his house today morning.

''As soon as my security group shall have determined that the danger to my life is over, we will go to see (Justice) Secretary Raul Gonzalez personally,'' said the letter.

In the letter, which Lozano said he believed to be genuine, Honasan denied any role in the alleged plot, describing the government's case against him as ''character assassination in gross violation of due process''.

Honasan, implicated in most of the country's more than one dozen coup attempts since Marcos fell in 1986, is already facing rebellion charges over a failed mutiny by young officers in 2003.

The government yesterday offered a bounty of 5 million pesos for Honasan's arrest and 3 million pesos for four retired soldiers and two civilians linked to the mutiny.

RIGHTS CASE AGAINST ARROYO Arroyo rose to the presidency in 2001 after a popular revolt against Joseph Estrada, who is under house arrest at his country villa while he stands trial for allegedly salting away 80 million dollars during his 31 months in office.

During Arroyo's brief state of emergency, three commanders of elite units were removed, a pro-opposition newspaper was raided by police and two television stations were monitored by soldiers.

Five journalists have been threatened with arrest.

Human rights activists said they had filed complaints with the United Nations to seek help in freeing the leftist lawmaker Beltran and investigating abuses by Arroyo's government.

Neri Javier Colmenares, a lawyer and spokesman for the Council for Defence of Liberties, called Beltran's detention ''unjust and illegal''. He appealed to international rights watchdogs to send a special rapporteur to Manila.

Some of Honasan's former colleagues in the upper house of Congress advised him not to turn himself in because they felt the government's case against leaders of the alleged plot was weak.

''I will not convince him to surrender,'' said Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, an Arroyo ally and defence minister under Marcos, who described Honasan as being ''like a son''.

But Enrile offered to act as a mediator ''to work out an acceptable solution to the problem'' after he acknowledged talking with Honasan twice this week.

Arroyo's spokesman said Honasan's ''raw ambition to capture political power through the back door has been exposed''.

''His is a lost struggle and he cannot recapture the image of a rebel with a cause after turning his back on the democratic system he once served,'' Ignacio Bunye said in a statement.

REUTERS DKS DS1625

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