Thousands rally to call for Philippine leader's resignation

Other News Materials 15 February 2008 12:01 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - Thousands of people took to the streets in the Philippine capital on Friday to demand President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's resignation over a kickbacks scandal involving her husband and political allies.

The protestors converged on the main Ayala Avenue in the financial district of Makati, where policemen and soldiers stepped up security following intelligence reports that communist rebels and other groups might disrupt the rally.

They carried banners and placards calling on Arroyo to step down and denouncing corruption in government.

Organizers said the protest would be the first in a series of demonstrations against Arroyo, who has been battling calls for her resignation over corruption and fraud allegations for the past two years.

They said they expected up to 8,000 leftist activists, students, workers as well as representatives of the business community, the Church and civil society organizations to join.

Hours before the rally, Arroyo told a business forum that she was taking allegations of corruption "very seriously" and vowed that her government was determined to fight corruption, which has become a part of the Philippines' way of life.

"It is a sad fact that the Philippines has a legacy of political corruption," she said. "While that legacy will not be erased overnight, we have made tremendous strides. We have made anti-corruption one of the key areas of focus for reform in the remainder of our term."

Arroyo said her government will conduct a thorough and transparent probe into the allegations that a scrapped 329-million-dollar government contract with a Chinese firm was overpriced because of kickbacks demanded by the country's ex-elections chief and her husband.

Government security forces, including Arroyo's guards, have also been accused of kidnapping a witness to the anomalous deal in a bid to prevent him from testifying in a Senate investigation. The witness has since been taken into protective custody of the Senate.

The military and police in Manila have been placed on red alert for the rally, while additional troops were dispatched from a northern province to augment security operations.

The Management Association of the Philippines, a business group that has backed the protest action, called on the military and police "to support the people and the constitution."

In a statement published in major newspapers Friday, the association urged the military and police to "not allow themselves to be used by those who continually violate the oath of public office and betray the people's trust for their personal aggrandizement."

Top military officials have assured loyalty to Arroyo amid public outcry over new allegations that the president's husband and political allies were involved in the overpricing of a scrapped government contract with a Chinese company.