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Rebellious Philippine Soldiers Seize Commercial Complex Near Manila's Financial District - 2003-07-27

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has declared a state of rebellion, hours after a group of soldiers took over a commercial center in Manila and laid explosives. She has assumed emergency powers and given the renegade soldiers under early evening to surrender. The soldiers are demanding that the president step down.

Residents of a high-end apartment tower, home to expatriates and diplomats, were roused from sleep when renegade soldiers occupied their building and its surrounding installations. The mutineers say they wired the commercial complex with explosives.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo gave them until late Sunday to surrender, saying the government will use force if they do not stand down. She said the soldiers' actions are a disgrace. "You have already stained the uniform," she told them. "Do not drench it with dishonor. Your actions are already hovering at the fringes of outright terrorism."

The rebels say they will not fire first. The group, apparently led by middle-ranking officers from the army and navy, say they are willing to die to force change in the government.

Navy Lieutenant Senior Grade Antonio Trillanes said his group is demanding that Ms. Arroyo resign. He said her government is selling arms to Muslim rebels and has been staging terrorist attacks to get more aid money from the United States.

Several hostages, including the Australian ambassador, were held briefly and released.

The Philippines' main ally, the United States, gave its full backing to Ms. Arroyo and warned of "immediate negative consequences" to bilateral relations if the coup attempt succeeds. Australia says it would consider sending Australian troops to the Philippines, if requested.

For the past few days, Manila has been rife with rumors of a military coup. Earlier, Ms. Arroyo denied the reports, but on Saturday she announced a destabilization plot had been uncovered.

It is not clear how much support the rebel soldiers have within the military or if other senior or retired military officials are also involved.

The Philippines has experienced several bloody military coup attempts since its return to popular democracy in 1986, the last in 1989.

President Arroyo is set to deliver what will be her last state of the nation address Monday. She has said she is not running for re-election next year.