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Philippine President Considers Lifting State of Emergency


Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo says she will lift the state of emergency she imposed six days ago over an alleged coup plot "as soon as possible." The announcement marked Mrs. Arroyo's first direct address to the public since the day the emergency was decreed.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said Wednesday she had ordered the departments of defense and justice and the national police to give her a report on the security situation by Saturday.

Addressing the nation for the first time since announcing the state of emergency last Friday, Mrs. Arroyo said she would give up her controversial emergency powers once she was assured her government was no longer under threat.

She has said she imposed emergency rule after her government uncovered a coup plot by rogue military soldiers and her political opponents.

Secretary of Justice Raul Gonzales gave no hint of what action he might recommend on Saturday, but he says he is not prepared to recommend the lifting of the state of emergency at this time.

"I think that the situation has leveled off, but to say that they have been really neutralized - but anyway, we have this 72 hours given by the president. As of this time, I'm not prepared to suggest a lifting," he said.

In the six days since the emergency decree was declared, the government has gone after its political opponents with a vengeance, filing rebellion charges against at least 70 people, including 6 of the members of congress and several soldiers.

Police have also raided the offices of an opposition newspaper, confiscating documents and threatening the publisher with possible rebellion charges. The government has said it will soon issue "guidelines" detailing what can be printed, and warned editors against publishing anti-government articles.

Police say they will begin "visiting" television stations, radio stations, and newspaper offices on Thursday.

Wednesday, around 100 journalists defied the ban on demonstrations and held a rally in Manila protesting the media restrictions. Several journalists shaved their heads in protest before dispersing peacefully.

Two international journalists' organizations, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists, have condemned the state of emergency, calling it an attack against press freedom.

Secretary of Defense Mike Defensor defended the decree, however, suggesting it prevented the country from spilling over into widespread violence.

"We may have disagreements politically, we may have problems and we may have debates. But in the end, I think, the bottom line is …let's avoid violence, let's avoid civil war," he said.

Senator Rudolfo Biazon says it is imperative that the government professionalize the restless and demoralized military, which has been responsible for a number of coup attempts and coups plots, against former president Corazon Aquino in the late 1980's, and Mrs. Arroyo in 2003.

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