Fri, Jun 25, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Arroyo takes office amid discontent over election

REUTERS , Manila

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, fresh from being declared winner of May's election, reached out to her opponents on Thursday for help in tackling corruption, poverty, insurgencies and a restive military.

Underlining the bitter political divisions Arroyo faces in her fresh six-year term, several opposition senators walked out of Congress in disgust before her proclamation as president in the early morning. Her formal inauguration is set for June 30.

Police in riot gear blocked scattered demonstrations by leftist groups and supporters of Arroyo's main rival, action movie star Fernando Poe, but there was no violence.

A joint session of Congress, heavily weighted with Arroyo's allies, approved a report by a panel of lawmakers showing the US-trained economist beat Poe narrowly. His camp alleges there was widespread cheating in her favor.

"To my detractors, I appeal for unity and to my supporters for an open mind," Arroyo said after her proclamation. "This is the time for forgiveness and letting go of the past."

After a marathon tally from the general election on May 10, the panel said on Sunday that Arroyo defeated Poe by one million votes or about 3 percent. Her running mate, former newsreader Noli de Castro, won the vice presidency by a similar margin.

Poe's allies accuse Arroyo of being a "bogus" president and the government says it expects more demonstrations in coming days. Officials say a group linked to the opposition was behind three bombs found and defused in Manila this week.

"This body has short-changed our people," Edgardo Angara, an opposition senator, said. "This body has lost its moral bearing."

"One of the problems in the Philippines is that it's a congressional set-up, so even though technically her party has a majority, it's a very loose coalition," said Nicholas Bibby, strategist at Barclays Capital in Singapore.

After Arroyo managed only a slim victory over the politically inexperienced film star, analysts say she has to address concerns that her new term will not be fraught with the instability and lack of bold reforms that marked her last three years in office.

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