Bush pledges friendship, military aid for Philippines

MANILA -- Amid extraordinary security and large crowds that forced schedule delays, US President George W. Bush thanked the Philippines on Saturday for standing alongside American forces in Iraq and promised to help the nation defeat terrorism by modernising its under-equipped military.

'Murder has no home in any religious faith and these terrorists must find no home in the Philippines,' Mr Bush said to enthusiastic applause at a joint session of the Philippines Congress.

He and Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo agreed to beef up their military partnership, including an intensified effort to help defeat Al-Qaeda-linked militant extremist groups that operate in the islands.

Mr Bush's visit was an abbreviated one due to security concerns. Air Force One was escorted by a pair of US fighter jets that flew so close the pilots' faces were clearly visible from the presidential aircraft.

The president's speech before the Congress was nearly an hour late because of large crowds - both supporters and protesters - on his motorcade route.

Outside the House of Representatives building, up to 4,000 protesters gathered, burning an effigy and five flags as Mr Bush's motorcade passed. Demonstrators had earlier marched from a university campus waving anti-US placards and streamers saying 'Ban Bush' and 'Bush No. 1 terrorist'.

Seven legislators walked out of the hall at the start of Mr Bush's speech.

The President gave no sign he had noticed them or the demonstrators. Instead, he made a point of thanking all those who 'lined the streets' in welcome. 'It warmed our hearts,' he told the Congress.

Mr Bush described the US-Philippines military alliance in the war on terror as 'a rock of stability in the Pacific'.

Mrs Arroyo was an early backer of US policy both in Iraq and in the broader war on terrorism. The Philippines has sent about 100 soldiers, police and health workers to Iraq.

The United States has worked closely to modernise the 113,000-member Philippine military and has sent advisers to help the military battle terrorist activity in the south.

During an earlier picture-taking session with Mrs Arroyo, Mr Bush hailed the recent killing of an Abu Sayyaf leader and the capture of others a 'success' and called it 'a model for the region'.

He called Mrs Arroyo a 'strong and stalwart leader'.

Mrs Arroyo thanked Mr Bush for American security assistance. 'We must close ranks and stand firm against terrorist threats, however grave,' she said.

Mr Bush was the first US president to address the Philippine Congress since Dwight Eisenhower in 1960.

Scheduled to spend no more than eight hours in Manila, Mr Bush rushed through the talks with Mrs Arroyo, the speech to Congress and then planned to attend a formal state dinner before flying on to Thailand.

Me Bush was headed next to Bangkok, Thailand, to attend the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum summit. -- AP

18/10/2003

Bron : The Strait Times

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