Tens of thousands demand Philippines' Arroyo quit

 

Tens of thousands of people demanded the resignation of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at an unexpectedly large protest rally in Manila's financial district on Friday.

 

Arroyo, who is battling allegations of corruption, has been in office for seven years and is due to finish her term in 2010, but political analysts said the turnout could force her supporters in the cabinet and military to rethink their position.

 

"With a crowd like that, it would get all the politicians' attention," said Mark Condon, an analyst at Pacific Strategies & Assessments, adding however there was no current indication that any Arroyo supporters were set to withdraw allegiance.

 

Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Policeal and Electoral Reforms, said: "It would have an impact on the thinking of many in the cabinet and the military; everybody would like to determine the mood of the people."

 

Independent observers said between 30,000 to 50,000 people gathered in the Makati business district in an outpouring of placards, prayers and chants. Analysts said the turnout was larger than expected.

 

Priests in white cassocks recited the rosary, university students shouted "Fight for Truth" and office workers from nearby high-rise buildings sprinkled confetti.

 

"Goodbye Gloria", and "Kick out Gloria, Change the System", were among the hundreds of placards held up and hawkers selling popcorn and ice-cream added to the carnival atmosphere.

 

Former presidents Corazon Aquino and Joseph Estrada sat beside each other at the side of a makeshift stage, a stone's throw away from the local stock exchange.

 

"There are many of us shouting: 'Gloria, it's enough, you should resign'," said Aquino, considered an icon of democracy.

 

"The times call for that we unite so that this deception would end and the truth would come out."

 

The police put the crowd at about 15,000, while opposition groups said 75,000 people had gathered, up from their own expectations of 40,000.

 

DEEPLY UNPOPULAR

 

Although deeply unpopular, Arroyo's position looks secure because she has the support of the military and after two "people power" revolts, many Filipinos are cynical about what a third will bring.

 

Also, there is no single figure for the opposition to rally around.

 

Around 1 million people took to the streets to overthrow dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and up to half a million helped oust Estrada in 2001 in a military-backed revolt.

 

Arroyo has survived three impeachment bids over allegations of corruption and vote fraud and at least three attempted coups. The latest scandal has erupted over alleged kickbacks in a government telecoms deal with China's ZTE Corp.

 

Investors have largely shrugged off the controversy, helping the main stock index to finish up 0.55 per cent on Friday in contrast to regional losses.

 

The peso which hit eight-year highs earlier this week, closed at 40.455 against the dollar, slightly stronger than Thursday's close at 40.48.

 

Opposition groups are hoping the protests will snowball but earlier this week the powerful Catholic Church stopped short of calling for Arroyo's resignation.

 

For some Filipinos, however, allegations of widespread corruption and attempts to prevent witnesses from testifying at a Senate inquiry into the ZTE deal was enough to provoke them.

 

"She has gone too far, to the point that I'm afraid of her," said Gay Villaluz, a lawyer. "I idolised her before." (Reuters)

 

 

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