Fourteen killed in Manila bomb blasts

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The Independent Online

A wave of bombs in Manila killed at least 14 people yesterday and wounded nearly 100, spreading panic in the Philippine capital and heightening political tension in a country where the president is on trial for corruption.

A wave of bombs in Manila killed at least 14 people yesterday and wounded nearly 100, spreading panic in the Philippine capital and heightening political tension in a country where the president is on trial for corruption.

The worst carnage was in the front carriage of a train on the city's elevated light railway system. An explosion killed 11 people and wounded 60, hurling body parts many yards. The coach was packed with shoppers who had bought groceries for the traditional midnight meal at New Year, and ripped bags and scattered food were strewn among the dead and dying.

"The train was approaching when I heard the explosion in the front coach," said Mari Vicpaglan, a ticket clerk. "It was so loud. I tried to help them. I felt dizzy because of the number of people pleading for help."

Reporters said men and women lay on stretchers, some with all limbs severed. Four bodies were under sheets of newspapers. Almost simultaneously, three other bombs were detonated, one on a bus, killing a passenger and wounding 15, a third on a park bench near the US embassy and the fourth in a warehouse at Manila's international airport that left 14 wounded. Hours later, a fifth device at a petrol station near one of the main hotels exploded and killed two police bomb disposal officers as they tried to defuse it.

Suspicion immediately fell on Abu Sayyaf, the smaller and more militant of the two groups fighting for autonomy in the Muslim areas of the southern Philippines. The police had said they expected retaliation after they arrested the group's spokesman Hector Janjalani in Manila on Thursday. He allegedly had grenades and sketches of potential targets.

The attacks caused panic as the capital's 12 million people prepared for the New Year festival. Shopping centres that would normally be crowded were nearly empty, and police were swamped with reports of suspicious packages. In one, a crowd stampeded from a store after a box was left on a counter. It, too, was a false alarm.

President Joseph Estrada, whose trial by the Senate on corruption charges resumes on Tuesday, tried to reassure the public, saying: "I assure you we will use all the forces of our law enforcers to halt this violence."

But the political crisis caused by the President's impeachment and trial is so intense that a spokesman for him had to deny that the government, seeking an excuse to impose martial law, was behind the bombings.

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