Tue, Jun 29, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Troops back Manila police

MANILA , REUTERS

A column of British-made armored personnel carriers rumbled into military headquarters in Manila yesterday as the Philippines prepared for tomorrow's inauguration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo this week.

Security forces are on alert after a group suspected of links to the political opposition planted three explosive devices in Manila last week in an apparent move to undermine Arroyo, who the opposition says cheated her way to victory in May 10 elections.

Eight Simba armored personnel carriers were brought in from an army base north of the capital to reinforce security forces in Manila, said military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel Lucero.

"This is a temporary thing ... We just don't want to be caught with our pants down," he said.

Lieutenant General Rodolfo Garcia, the military's vice chief of staff, said security forces were still monitoring several retired generals and a few officers for possible links with a group planning to disrupt Arroyo's inauguration.

"The threat remains," he told reporters. "We cannot just sweep it under the rug, but these are threats we believe don't have any muscle."

Arroyo starts a new six-year term with a speech in Manila followed by an oath-taking ceremony in central Cebu City, after Congress last week approved an election count showing she beat action film star Fernando Poe Jr by more than a million votes.

Foreign ambassadors and envoys, including one sent from the Vatican by Pope John Paul II, will join the Catholic president in Manila that evening for her inauguration ball.

Arroyo, 57, has said she wants a simple and austere ceremony to reflect the seriousness of her pledges to improve the lot of millions of poor Filipinos, including creating a million jobs a year and cutting power rates that are among Asia's highest.

The low-key events may also be aimed at placating the opposition, which has threatened to hold protests at what it claimed was massive election fraud in favor of Arroyo.

The economist unseated president Joseph Estrada after huge protests in 2001, but failed to make much of a dent on entrenched corruption and poverty in three years marked by bitter political feuding and military unrest.

The government did not deploy a single tank when it prepared to crush a brief military mutiny in July 2003.

The military has about 3,000 troops in the capital, including three army battalions trained in crowd control. The soldiers will back up 12,000 police officers who have the primary role in guarding the capital.

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