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Arroyo sets deadline for mutineers

Plastic explosives set up in financial district, they say

From CNN Correspondent Maria Ressa

Armed men set up explosives in the commercial district of Makati in the Philippines capital.
Armed men set up explosives in the commercial district of Makati in the Philippines capital.

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Armed men have seized the financial center of Manila, setting up booby traps, hours after the administration announced a crackdown on 'rebellion' soldiers. CNN's Maria Ressa has more (July 26)
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MANILA, Philippines (CNN) -- About 30 rogue members of the Philippine armed forces say they are rigging explosive devices at a commercial center in the capital's Makati financial district.

The armed men, who identified themselves as members of the military, set up devices between the Rustan Department Store, which is in the Glorietta Shopping Center, and the Hotel Intercontinental.

The men warned that the devices might detonate and urged onlookers not to approach.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo issued a deadline for the renegade soldiers to surrender, giving them until 5 p.m. (5 a.m. ET, 9 a.m.GMT) to leave the Glorietta Shopping Center, in the heart of the Makati financial district of the capital.

"There is absolutely no justification for the actions you have taken," Arroyo said in a nationally televised statement Sunday. "You have already defamed the uniform. Do not drench it with dishonor."

She said after the deadline, the armed forces chief of staff is authorized to use "reasonable force" to dislodge the rogue soldiers and arrest them.

FACT BOX


THE PHILIPPINES

GEOGRAPHY:
Pacific archipelago of 7,107 islands 600 miles southeast of China. Tropical climate.

POPULATION: More than 76 million. Most descendants of migrants from Southeast Asia and Indonesia; large ethnic Chinese minority.

RELIGION: About 84 percent Roman Catholic; others mostly Protestant, Muslim, animist.

LANGUAGE: Filipino, Malay language based on Tagalog; English, second official language, widely used in business and government.

HISTORY: Spanish colony from 1521 to 1898, when U.S. Navy defeated Spainish fleet at Manila Bay. Americans crushed Filipino rebels in six-year war. Japan occupied islands in World War II. Independence granted in 1946.

RECENT POLITICAL UNREST: Dictator Ferdinand Marcos ousted by popular protests in 1986. Several failed coup attempts against President Corazon Aquino in late 1980s by military officers complaining about corruption. President Joseph Estrada forced from office on Jan. 20, 2001, by mass protests over corruption allegations.

One of the armed men said they were using plastic C4 explosives, though CNN was not able to verify that claim.

Gray and black devices were seen laid on curbs and hung from street signs.

The men barricaded the area to prevent other vehicles from entering. When a delivery truck tried to enter, the men fired warning shots into the air and the truck halted.

Above the shopping center stands the two-tower Oakwood building, which contains serviced apartments that house many expatriates, including Australia's ambassador. Nearby is another five-star hotel, the Intercontinental.

The rogue troops have been allowing guests and residents to leave the buildings, and have been aggressive in making sure others stay out of the area. The Australian ambassador, Ruth Pearce, was among those confirmed safe.

Hundreds of troops loyal to the government now ring the complex with armored personnel carriers and trucks.

The Philippine Armed Forces confirmed the men are members of the military. An intelligence source told CNN the leader of the rogue group was at the top of his class in the military academy in 1995.

The activity came after a week of rumors that a coup was being plotted by disgruntled officers within the 113,000-strong Philippine Armed Forces.

There have been widespread grievances in the military over issues such as pay, housing, and insurance. Soldiers have also complained of being ordered to serve for long periods of time in the southern part of the country, where government forces have been fighting Muslim rebels.

President Arroyo and military leaders went on national television to say the event represented an attack on the political system in the Philippines.

Arroyo ordered the arrests of junior "rogue officers" who walked off their posts carrying their weapons, an act authorities called a "mutiny."

"They have broken the law," Arroyo said. "They will be court-martialed."

In the late 1980s, at least six coups were attempted against the government of President Corazon Aquino. All took place in the middle of the night in such sensitive areas as government television stations and military compounds.

This is the first time a commercial center has been targeted.

Armed Forces Chief Gen. Narciso Abaya said 10 officers and 50 enlisted personnel took part in this latest action. Many have been disarmed and detained and others are being sought, he said.

"We have confirmed that these officers and soldiers have deserted their posts, bringing with them weapons and have associated themselves with some groups with personal and/or political interest," Abaya said.

Abaya identified 10 officers and ordered they be court-martialed for "mutiny and and conspiracy to commit rebellion."

Arroyo said that, "in the spirit of dialogue and understanding, I have bent backwards and listened to the legitimate grievances of some of the young officers."

Despite that, she said, the officers have broken the armed forces' "strict chain of command."

Arroyo is to deliver her state of the nation address Monday and security has been beefed up in the capital.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement about the situation, reaffirming U.S. support for the existing government.

"No one should be under any doubt that we fully support the legitimate civilian government of the Philippines -- Gloria Macapagal Arroyo," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Joanne Moore said.

"At this time, we have no reason to believe that there is a real threat to the Arroyo government, but let there be no mistake that a military coup would have immediate negative consequences, including consequences on the bilateral relationship."

In a pastoral letter released Saturday, Archbishop Cardinal Jaime Sin, the leader of the Philippines Catholic church, warned of "ongoing plots" to destabilize the government and the democratic institutions in the country.

The Philippine peso has plunged during the week because of the coup rumors.

Accusations

Late Saturday, renegade military members released a video in which they accused Arroyo of selling arms to rebel groups and carrying out a series of bombings the government has blamed on the rebels.

The group said Arroyo, 56, was conspiring to declare martial law in August so she could remain in power after her term expires next year.

While the government issued a statement calling the accusation "a lie," and saying the soldiers themselves could be victims of propaganda, the soldiers' accusation plays on the fears of many Filipinos after the infamous 21-year term of President Ferdinand Marcos, during which he did the same thing.

Marcos instigated a series of bombings and civil unrest in the late 1960s and early 1970s, using that as an excuse to declare martial law in 1972. It took the People Power Revolt of 1986 to end Marcos' dictatorship.

The soldiers' accusation also strikes at the level of confidence Filipinos have in the Arroyo government in fighting terrorism.

Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has been accused of carrying out terrorist acts in the southern Philippines -- two attacks in the past year alone.


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