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Philippine army cracks down on suspected Arroyo plotters

Philippine army cracks down on suspected Arroyo plotters

The Philippine military removed two colonels from duty as political foes of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said yesterday they had formed a "revolutionary government" headed by a retired general.

Arroyo's government and security chiefs have played down reports of a plot to unseat her, despite intelligence naming a dozen retired and active-duty officers as leaders of a coup allegedly planned for last weekend.

Adding to the security concerns, a renegade Marine captain, facing mutiny cases over a failed coup attempt in July 2003, escaped from his guards after a court hearing yesterday.

Lieutenant-General Hermogenes Esperon, the army commander, told Reuters he was "re-positioning" a deputy brigade commander based near Manila after the colonel admitted sending mobile phone text messages to troops encouraging them to support a coup.

The colonel is a son of Fortunato Abat, an 80-year-old retired general and former defense secretary named as "transition president" by groups opposed to Arroyo.

Another officer, a Marine colonel, was relieved of his command after his elder brother, a general in the national police force, was summoned to explain his role in the alleged plot.

The police general, who denied any involvement in the plot, is a son-in-law of Abat.

Arroyo's spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, appealed to Filipinos to ignore rumours about plots to unseat the president.

"We respect the views of the former general (Abat), appreciate his sense of nationalism and share his concerns about the plight of our people," Bunye said in a statement from Kuala Lumpur, where Arroyo had attended a regional summit.

"But this quixotic declaration is pathetic and unfortunate."