Fighters clear skies for Bush

Air Force One flies into Manila for US President's abbreviated visit amid ultra-tight security even as leftist groups burn his effigy in protest

By Luz Baguioro

FLANKED by two fighter jets, Air Force One, with US President George W. Bush, flew into Manila yesterday in a show of ultra-tight security.

The precautions taken were in keeping with the key theme of his visit: the war on terrorism.

Despite his bearing gifts of military aid and thank-yous for Manila's support for Washington's war on terrorism, left-wing groups burnt an effigy of Mr Bush and chanted anti-US slogans to protest against the visit.

Live television reports in Manila showed that the two air-superiority fighters were sticking so close that the pilots' faces were clearly visible from the presidential jet.

Shortly after he stepped off the plane, Mr Bush was whisked from a military airbase south of Manila to the US Embassy.

A helicopter flew overhead while gunboats raced alongside his motorcade as he later proceeded to a bayside park where he laid a wreath to national hero Jose Rizal.

Mr Bush's abbreviated visit is the first by a US president in this former American colony since Dwight Eisenhower in 1960.

Mr Bush paid tribute to President Gloria Arroyo for backing US policy in Iraq and the broader war on terrorism.

He also vowed to help Manila improve its capability to crush local insurgencies and terrorists, especially the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group.

Addressing a joint session of the Philippine Congress, the US President pledged to contribute training and an unspecified sum of money to help modernise the Philippine military.

'My country will provide technical assistance, field expertise and funding,' he promised in a speech marred by the walkout of five leftist legislators.

Mr Bush also vowed to help the Philippines bring the extremist Abu Sayyaf rebels 'to justice' and work with South-east Asian nations to dismantle the Jemaah Islamiah, which is believed to be the regional front of the Al-Qaeda terror network.

'It's serious because there are no rules when it comes to a crowd like Abu Sayyaf - they kidnap, they kill, they maim,' Mr Bush said earlier after 30-minute talks with Mrs Arroyo, whom he called a 'strong and stalwart leader'.

'The success against this particular group is a model for the region,' he said, citing the killing of an Abu Sayyaf leader last year and the arrests of others in recent months.

More than 11,000 policemen were deployed to keep anti-US protesters at bay.

Some 7,000 left-wing protesters earlier attempted to march to the House of Representatives in Manila's northern suburb, where Mr Bush was to address a joint session of Congress.

Led by left-wing legislators Crispin Beltran and Satur Ocampo, a former communist guerilla leader, the protesters carried streamers that read 'Ban Bush, Oust Gloria' and 'US Troops Out' and a huge US flag emblazoned with the words 'No 1 Terrorist'.

The presence of the protesters prompted the US Secret Service to delay Mr Bush's trip to Congress for more than an hour.

After attending a state banquet in Manila, Mr Bush and his wife Laura left the Philippines and they arrived in Thailand late last night.

In an interview on Thai television last week, Mr Bush had indicated that he would declare Thailand a major non-Nato ally, giving the kingdom elite status that allows for priority military aid.

Yesterday, Thailand and the US also signed an agreement to allow unlimited and unrestricted cargo flights between the two countries.


President Bush:

Buttress the US-Philippine pact in the war on terror by thanking Manila for backing US moves and the Iraq strike.

President Arroyo:


Bron : The Sunday Times

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