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Philippine Protest Slams Powell Visit and US Troops

30 July 2002

About 2,000 leftist demonstrators slammed on Tuesday a U.S.-led anti-terror exercise in the Philippines ahead of the visit of Secretary of State Colin Powell for talks on combating terrorism.

Anti-riot troops armed with truncheons, assault rifles and machineguns sealed off the gate of a stadium in southern Zamboanga, where the protesters had massed, to prevent a possible clash with pro-U.S. demonstrators holding a separate rally in the city.

In the capital Manila, a dozen other protesters waded through chest-deep waters on Manila Bay adjacent to the U.S. Embassy building and waved signs reading: "Powell, you're not welcome here" and "Goodbye, Joe, don't come back."

Powell is to make an overnight visit to Manila later this week in the course of an Asian tour to be highlighted by the signing of an anti-terror declaration between the United States and 10 Southeast Asian nations in Brunei on Wednesday.

Tuesday's protests occurred on the eve of the formal end of a six-month counter-terrorism exercise between U.S. troops and Filipino soldiers in the southern Philippines. About 1,000 Americans are involved in the training.

The exercises were intended to upgrade Filipino skills in fighting the Abu Sayyaf rebels, whom the United States has linked to Islamic militant Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.

Powell is expected to discuss with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Saturday the possibility of holding more military exercises as part of the U.S.-led campaign against terror.

Support for exercises

Although recent surveys showed more than 80 percent of Filipinos supported the exercises, leftist and nationalist groups have opposed the training as violating the country's constitution, which bars foreign troops from Philippine soil unless under a treaty.

Leftist anger was heightened by accusations by two lawmakers that a U.S. soldier had shot and wounded a civilian suspected of links with the Abu Sayyaf when Filipino troops last week raided his house to arrest him.

The U.S. Embassy denied the accusation and said the American, an army medical officer, was called in by the local military to treat the wounded rebel.

Tuesday's anti-U.S. protest in Zamboanga took place 1.8 miles from the Philippine military headquarters, where American troops were staying.

"U.S. troops out now" and "U.S. no. 1 terrorist," the protesters shouted.

The group included several Americans and Europeans belonging to an international group of peace activists.

Tension mounted in Zamboanga - a largely Christian city of 700,000 about 535 miles south of Manila - on Monday night when the leftists rode in a motorcade through the city.

Residents rained stones on the motorcade, injuring one person.

Erik de Castro, Philippines
Published by Reuters © 2002 Reuters Ltd

Philippines     'War on terrorism' index


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