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Philippines' Arroyo calls for passage of terror law

Written by: Staff
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MANILA, Mar 28 (Reuters) President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo called on Congress today to pass an anti-terrorism law, a day after a mobile phone-detonated bomb killed five people and wounded 17 in a shop in the southern Philippines.

Security officials on the southwestern island of Jolo were quick to blame the al Qaeda-linked militant group Abu Sayyaf for the attack, saying the bombing was in retaliation for shop managers defying the rebels' attempts to extort money.

"Once more, and with a deep sense of urgency, I ask Congress to pass the anti-terrorism law that will enable our nation to constrict, contain and control this threat more effectively," Arroyo said in a statement.

"Terror never sleeps and we need to consistently carry out our comprehensive action plan to rid our country and the world of this grave threat." The government has said the absence of an anti-terror law has inhibited its fight against Muslim and communist insurgencies that have killed at least 160,000 people since the late 1960s.

The United States, the Philippines' close security partner in the Asia-Pacific region, has also criticised Manila for not having tough laws to help thwart guerrilla attacks.

Last October, Arroyo's allies in the lower house of Congress, responding to deadly bombings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, promised to hasten the implementation of an anti-terror law by the end of 2005.

But political gridlock has slowed the passage of key political and econo3mic reform bills in Congress, including the 2006 budget, as allegations of corruption and vote-rigging in the 2004 elections continue to dog Arroyo.

Human rights advocates h3ave criticised several versions of the proposed anti-terror law due to provisions that allow bugging of phones, warrantless arrests and much longer detention of terror suspects without charges in court.

The issue of wiretapping was also an emotional issue after the government declined to confront allegations that Arroyo had rigged election results based on telephone recordings, which her foes said were proof she cheated her way to a fresh term.

NOTHING RELIGIOUS Both houses of Congress have yet to pass the anti-t3error bill, and lawmakers are running out of time to finish it before their session ends in June.

Brigadier-General Francisco Callelero, an army spokesman in the southern Philippines, said the military was investigating reports that yesterday's bombing was part of an extortion attempt by Islamic rebels with ties to Indonesian militants.

"It's more or less a terrorist attack," Callelero said in a television interview. "Our investigators found a letter demanding money from the managers of the Sulu Cooperative Store days before the attack." An intelligence official told Reuters the store managers received a telephone call yesterday from a man, who gave his name as Abu Abdulgaye, claiming to be a member of Abu Sayyaf and who said he was following up the demand for money.

But the managers ignored the call. Minutes after the shop re-opened after lunch, an ammonium nitrate bomb triggered by a mobile phone ripped through the two-storey building.

Cal3lelero said one of the extortion letters was left at the counter of an adjacent pharmacy 3when the store closed for lunch.

"There's nothing religious in the attack," said Major Gamal Hayudini, another army spokesman, adding that most of the casualties were Muslims working at the shop.

REUTERS SB SP1350

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