Security chiefs cite plot to kill Philippines president

Philippines security officials said on Thursday they had uncovered a plot by Islamic militants linked to the al-Qaeda network to assassinate President Gloria Arroyo.

Her security chief, Brigadier General Romeo Prestoza, said Arroyo had been informed of the threat, which forced her to cancel a scheduled trip on Friday to the northern resort city of Baguio.

Security forces in the Philippines were placed on full alert.

The announcement came a day ahead of a major rally by political opponents of Arroyo to demand her resignation over allegations of corruption linking the first family.

Prestoza said the plot was hatched by “extremists Jemaah Islamiyah and the Abu Sayyaf Group”, referring to Muslim militant groups with reported links to al-Qaeda.

“It is not just the president, there are other targets,” he told reporters. “If they want to launch it, they can do it anytime.”

He said the plan did not appear to be connected to the opposition rally at the Makati business district in Manila, planned for Friday.

Armed forces chief General Hermogenes Esperon said news of the plan “had become the basis of our action for putting the armed forces of the Philippines in full state of preparedness”.

He said elements composed of militants from Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah were also planning to hit “high-value targets” around Manila.

Both groups, which have been blamed for the worst terrorist attacks in the Philippines in recent years, are known to operate on the southern island of Mindanao.

They are, however, known to field “cells” responsible for bombings around Manila in the past as well.

Earlier Thursday, army spokesperson Captain Carlo Ferrer cited intelligence reports that elements from the communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebel group may infiltrate the ranks of protesters on Friday and instigate violence.

The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which has been waging a Maoist rebellion since 1969.

Arroyo’s critics have been holding daily protests around Manila calling on her to resign over fresh claims that her husband and a political ally tried to get millions of dollars in kickbacks from a telecoms deal with a Chinese firm.

The $329-million deal for a national broadband network with China’s state-run ZTE has since been cancelled by Arroyo.

Some business groups have warned that the scandal could plunge the country into a new round of political instability and dampen investor confidence. — AFP

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