Manila's police crack down during May Day rallies


Mon, May 02, 2005 - Page 5

Container trucks and barbed wire blocked roads to the presidential palace yesterday as security forces were deployed amid fears that opponents of the Philippine leader could use Labor Day to destabilize her administration.

Thousands rallied to mark the day. While the rallies were generally peaceful, members of militant groups clashed briefly with riot police armed with batons in a major avenue in the capital, and at least one protester was seen being shoved into a police van. The violence erupted after the protesters, estimated by police at least 5,000, occupied both lanes of the road and tried to push their way toward the presidential palace. They were stopped by police, who also blocked the road with vehicles.

The security clampdown came a day after a former defense minister called for a civilian-military junta to replace President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Congress because a "crisis in leadership" was hampering the fight against poverty. Fortunato Abat, who served under former President Fidel Ramos, said there should be a "revolutionary transition government ... together with the military and police." Ramos distanced himself from Abat, calling him and his supporters "screw ups."

Recent rumors have spread in the capital that a plot to destabilize the government might be hatched during this year's Labor Day celebration. On May 1, 2001, thousands of supporters of ousted President Joseph Estrada, who had been arrested on plunder charges, tried to storm the presidential palace but were pushed back by soldiers. Six people were killed in the riot, which Arroyo called a failed power grab.

Thousands of members of the May One Movement, the country's largest left-wing labor federation, gathered at a public square in Manila and demanded wage increases and protested higher energy prices as well as a planned hike in the value-added tax.