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Failed Mutiny May Have Been Part of Larger Coup Plot, Says Philippine Interior Secretary - 2003-08-01

A member of the Philippine cabinet says Sunday's failed military mutiny may have been part of a larger plot to kill President Gloria Arroyo. Mrs. Arroyo is keeping a state of emergency in effect while her government investigates the uprising. Philippine Interior Secretary Jose Lina cited an unconfirmed intelligence report in saying that mutinous soldiers may have been planning to kill President Gloria Arroyo last week.

Mr. Lina told a Senate probe Friday he thinks the uprising was a well-orchestrated attempt at a coup d'etat, and he accused opposition Senator Gregorio Honasan of a key role in backing it - something Senator Honasan denies.

As a sign of continuing nervousness in the capital, Philippine Army leaders said Friday they had set up checkpoints outside Manila after reports of unauthorized troop movements.

More than 300 soldiers took over a commercial complex in Manila's Makati district last Sunday. They engaged the government in a standoff for 19 hours, accusing Mrs. Arroyo's government of corruption and demanding that she resign. The standoff ended peacefully late Sunday night.

Mr. Lina says civilian supporters of Senator Honasan tried to join the coup attempt shortly after it began, but police prevented them from entering the complex the mutineers had taken over.

President Arroyo warned lawmakers Friday not to obstruct the government's plans to prosecute Senator Honasan, who led several coup attempts against the government in the late 1980's when he himself was in the military.

As one indication of an attempt on the president's life, Colonel Delfin Bangit, who heads the unit charged with protecting Mrs. Arroyo says, the mutinous soldiers chose weapons that could be used for assassination. Col. Bangit says the soldiers had sniper rifles and other advanced weaponry. President Arroyo's national security adviser says the mutineers had half a million dollars worth of weapons and equipment, suggesting the coup had support and funding from outside the military.

Officials say they suspect former President Joseph Estrada may have played a role in the coup. The government has already charged Mr. Estrada's former aide, Ramon Cardenas, with rebellion, after investigators say they found a weapons cache at his residence.

Mr. Estrada was driven from office in 2001 by a popular uprising that was backed by the military, and he is now facing trial for corruption. He denies any role in this week's coup, but on Friday he expressed his support for the attempt, insisting that he was removed from office illegally and is still the lawful president.

The government says it has arrested all 321 known participants in the insurgency, playing down media reports that additional mutinous soldiers may be unaccounted for.