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Police Retake Manila Airport Tower After Brief Seizure by Gunmen - 2003-11-07


Government troops in the Philippines have retaken the air traffic control tower at the Manila international airport after armed men briefly took control of the building early Saturday. At least two people were killed in the assault.

A group of armed men, led by a former military officer, briefly took the airport's control tower shortly after midnight Saturday. The group clashed with police and aviation security forces in a brief firefight.

The leader of the attackers, Panfilo Villaruel, a former head of the government air transportation office, was among those killed in the fighting.

Mr. Villaruel, a former air force officer, earlier told a local radio station that he raided the airport to protest government corruption. Officials say it does not appear that a coup or a larger military action is under way.

Airport general manager Edgardo Manda says the situation is now under control. "We are operating normally, both domestic and international flights [are] under normal operations," he said.

Mr. Manda also says that it does not appear Mr. Villaruel was connected with other groups.

In July, hundreds of rebellious soldiers stormed a commercial complex to protest corruption. The soldiers surrendered peacefully, but since then rumors of a coup have persisted.

The rest of the country appeared to be calm following Saturday's incident, but troops have been deployed around the presidential palace. The military was put on high alert earlier this week to guard against movements to destabilize the government of President Gloria Arroyo as she struggles with a political crisis.

The president on Friday warned the military to refrain from taking advantage of a political stalemate between the legislative and judicial branches to grab power ahead of elections in May.

Ms. Arroyo has been trying to break an impasse between Congress and the Supreme Court over an impeachment complaint against the country's chief judge.

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