Army foils coup attempt in Philippines

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The Independent Online

Amid a flurry of gunfire and teargas, an armoured personnel carrier smashed through the plate-glass entrance of a five-star hotel in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, ending a seven-hour coup attempt by a group of dissident military officers.

About a hundred people, including hotel workers and foreign guests, were trapped inside the Peninsula hotel, in the downtown Makati financial district, when it was taken over by renegade soldiers on trial for staging an attempted coup in 2003.

Yesterday, the defendants marched out of court and into the hotel, where they tried to stage another coup against the government of President Gloria Arroyo. They were joined by several dozen more dissident soldiers, a priest, a retired bishop and a former vice-president, Teofisto Guingona Jnr.

Holed-up inside the Peninsula, the rebels posted grand speeches on a website, urging the masses to rise up in another "people power" revolution, like the one that toppled the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. They worked their mobile phones furiously, making calls and sending out text messages in an effort to muster the crowds to support them.

But their call went unheeded, except by the hundreds of curious onlookers who gathered outside the hotel, and by nightfall the uprising had been crushed. The military ignored the rebels' urging to withdraw its backing for the President.

After an army deadline to surrender had passed at 3pm local time, an armoured vehicle rammed the front of the building, and elite forces swarmed in. Despite gunfire in the lobby, no one was injured, and the soldiers quickly gave themselves up.

One of the rebel leaders, Senator Antonio Trillanes, explained to journalists trapped inside: "We're going out for the safety of everybody. We won't be able to live with our consciences if some of you get ...killed in the crossfire."

Mr Trillanes, a navy lieutenant elected a senator in May while on trial for leading the 2003 coup, was taken away in a prison bus. With him was another leader of yesterday's abortive uprising, Brigadier General Danilo Lim. The 2003 mutiny failed when the army declined to join action begun by about 200 soldiers.

President Arroyo, who has survived a series of attempted coups and three impeachment attempts during nearly seven years in power, addressed the nation on television after the latest drama. "Wrong and misguided deeds of the few do not speak for the people or the army and police," she declared. "The full force of the law will be meted out."

The country's police chief announced that 101 people had been arrested at the hotel. The government then imposed a midnight-to-5am curfew in Manila and two surrounding provinces, calling it a precautionary measure. Checkpoints were set up around the capital.

Mrs Arroyo came to power in 2001 after her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, was forced to flee the presidential palace following a second "people power" uprising. Before surrendering, Brigadier General Lim said: "Mrs Arroyo stole the presidency from Estrada, and later manipulated the results of 2004 elections."