Crowds flock to film star funeral

Thousands of mourners poured onto the streets of the Philippines capital for the funeral of film star-turned-presidential contender Fernando Poe Jr. 

Poe, who believed he was cheated of an election win after coming within 3% of President Gloria Arroyo, died of a stroke last week. 

The huge numbers of people surrounding his cortege prompted the authorities to boost security in case of any unrest. But the crowds broke up peacefully after Poe had been laid to rest. 

In all about 300,000 Filipinos took to the streets of Manila to catch a last glimpse of their movie hero. 

Many wore election campaign T-shirts and carried posters of Poe. 

The carriage bearing his coffin took five hours to reach Manila North Cemetery, and was pulled by his favourite horse, a co-star from some of his 200 films.

Kites and balloons flew around the Poe family tomb, while thousands of supporters packed the cemetery. 

In a country in love with celebrity, the BBC's correspondent in Manila, Sarah Toms, says Poe was feted wherever he went - loved as the strong, silent hero to the oppressed. 

But he was also known for the political role he played in May's election, when he made a bid for the presidency and came within 3% of beating President Gloria Arroyo. 

After the election results were announced, the opposition filed charges accusing President Arroyo's camp of fraud. 

The Philippine Supreme Court still has to rule on his demand that the result be invalidated. 

At a church service before the funeral, the former president of the Philippines, Joseph Estrada, said Poe had been robbed of victory. 

Mr Estrada, who is on trial for corruption, and was allowed out of detention to attend the service, had encouraged his actor friend to stand for president. 

Political colour 

Before the funeral, there were warnings that opposition groups could use it to publicise their cause. 

Justice secretary Raul Gonzales said the government was "deeply concerned" by intelligence suggesting that certain organisations were aiming to use the funeral to incite an anti-government uprising.

"We shall not allow riots or seditious acts to rule the streets," he said in a statement before the event. 

Mrs Arroyo also urged the army to remain loyal to her. 

"I expect you the soldiers to be by my side, to man the flanks by keeping all threats to national security at bay," she said at a military awards ceremony on Tuesday. 

Poe's family also asked the public not to turn the funeral into a political event. 

"We want a solemn burial," said Poe's younger brother Conrad. 

"Please avoid painting any political colour. We will try to make it as simple as possible," he added. 

In the event, the procession was largely peaceful, with the crowds dispersing soon after the burial.

22/12/2004

Bron : BBC News

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