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Philippines Beefs Up Security Ahead of Bush Visit - 2003-10-17

Philippine officials are finalizing preparations for President Bush's visit Saturday. Security is the government's top priority amid fears of a terrorist attack.

President Bush will only stay for eight hours in Manila Saturday, but Philippine officials are not taking any chances.

Security is extra tight in the capital. Thousands of police have been deployed in strategic points such as airports, government installations, the U.S. embassy and five star hotels. On Saturday, police will close off roads to be taken by the president's convoy.

The security issue in the Philippines has prevented Mr. Bush from staying longer in the country, which is one of Washington's staunchest allies in the war on terrorism. Several terrorist groups operate in the Philippines, and foreign governments have already warned that Manila is vulnerable to attacks.

The United States has been providing training and equipment to the Philippine military to combat terrorists, and the subject of terrorism is expected to top the agenda in the summit between President Bush and Philippine President Gloria Arroyo.

Manila has been spruced up for the much touted state visit. U.S. and Philippine flags are on display along main highways and at the presidential complex, where President Bush will hold bilateral meetings and attend a state dinner. At the palace grounds, workers were seen hanging lights and painting facades.

Activists here are denouncing what they say is the government's excessive preparations for the visit. Squatter communities outside Congress - where Mr. Bush will deliver a speech - have been demolished.

A woman expressed anger at what she says is the government's apparent attempt to cover up poverty and dares the government to show the real situation to President Bush.

Police have prohibited protest groups from holding rallies outside the U.S. embassy. Protesters have denounced the security measures as a curtailment of their civil rights.

Ma-an Hontiveros, a leader of the activist group Akbayan, says the security measures are a disgrace. She says the government should instead protect the nation against unfavorable U.S. policies.

Despite the protest ban, activists are still planning to stage rallies Saturday.

Manila Police Chief Pedro Bulaong defends the government's actions.

He says his troops are only trying to prevent potential violence.

Mr. Bush's brief visit to the former U.S. colony is the second stop of his six-nation tour of Asia. He attends the leaders' summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Forum in Bangkok next week.