Thousands join another protest to demand Philippine leader's ouster

(dpa) - Thousands of protesters, mostly students, marched in the Philippine capital Friday as part of a continuing campaign to demand President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's resignation over corruption allegations.

Carrying wooden crosses, the demonstrators called for an end to "the suffering of the masses under the Arroyo regime" and vowed to join other planned protests against the president.

The crosses carried anti-Arroyo messages such as "Gloria, executioner of the poor" and "Arroyo family, a syndicate."

Police said about 3,000 students and left-wing activists joined the march to the Liwasang Bonifacio, a park in downtown Manila. Organizers, however, estimated the crowd to be around 8,000 at the height of the demonstration.

The number was a far cry from the tens of thousands of people who joined an anti-government rally in the financial district of Makati on February 29, which was considered the biggest protest ever to demand Arroyo's resignation.

Organizers said they were really not expecting a huge crowd in Friday's rally.

"The important thing is that the students are here and that they came from different universities and schools," said Adel Tamano, a spokesman for the opposition and president of the state-run University of the City of Manila, which joined the rally.

Renato Reyes, secretary general of the New Patriotic Alliance, which helped organize the protest, said he expected protests against Arroyo to intensify after Lent, a major holiday in the predominantly Catholic Philippines that precedes Easter.

"There will certainly be a resurrection of sorts in protest movements right after the Lenten break," he said. "People will not forget easily the sins of this administration."

Calls for Arroyo to step down intensified after a witness told a Senate inquiry last month that the president's husband and a key ally received multimillion-dollar kickbacks from a scrapped government contract.

A separate witness alleged that Arroyo herself received kickbacks from the contract, which has since been canceled over allegations of irregularities.

Arroyo, her husband and allies have denied any wrongdoing. She has also rejected calls for her resignation, saying she would only step down when her term expires in 2010.

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