Sun, May 16, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Arroyo regime vows to crush protests

DISGRUNTLED A spokesman for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said soldiers will use `necessary force' to deal with any attempts by the opposition to grab power

AP , MANILA

The Philippine government yesterday warned President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's rivals that attempts to use a "people power" revolt to try to grab power would be met with "the full force of the law."

Final official results from Monday's election will take weeks, and a "quick count" by an officially sanctioned election watchdog group won't be ready for several days.

Arroyo was leading action film star Fernando Poe Jr. in the quick count by a little more than 2 percentage points as of midday yesterday. An independent exit poll by a credible agency has predicted she will win by 9 percentage points.

The president has invited her opponents to join in a government of national unity and reconciliation, but Poe has said he believes he won the election and his party threatened massive street protests to force Arroyo from power if necessary.

Poe's camp has alleged widespread election irregularities, and he has urged his backers to "remain firm in our belief in the truth that victory is ours."

In a statement yesterday, presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said, "Any attempt to destabilize the government will be a blatant travesty of the Filipino people's will as expressed during the May 10 elections. We discourage those disgruntled politicians and their allies from any sinister plans, which will be met with the full force of law."

The Philippine military has also warned against any violence or massive protests, saying troops would use "necessary force" to maintain order if losing parties try to stir up trouble.

In a live interview with ABS-CBN TV from the presidential palace on Friday, Arroyo called the elections "an opportunity for change," and said she needed a six-year mandate to complete economic and political reforms she began when she succeeded President Joseph Estrada after he was ousted in a 2001 "people power" revolt.

Still bitter at Arroyo, Estrada supports his friend, Poe, and warned from military detention of another "people power" uprising if the government cheats in the elections.

Arroyo refused to talk about the allegations from the opposition and civic groups of vote tampering and irregularities, or any election-related issues. But she did warn the opposition not to cross the line, saying, "They can protest verbally" and within the law.

She also extended a hand to her rivals, saying she wanted to form a "government of national unity and reconciliation, and it would be good if my opponents would join me."

Arroyo said she would work on "institutional reforms" and changing the country's culture of corruption while increasing the speed of privatization of public utilities and keeping the budget deficit down.

Earlier, Arroyo called her first post-election Cabinet meeting. Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo, in her absence, asked members to submit resignations to give Arroyo a free hand to reorganize the government.

If Arroyo beats Poe and three other candidates, she will have a public mandate to run the country for the first time.

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