November 29, 2007 / 3:55 AM / 11 years ago

Philippine rebels in Manila hotel arrested

MANILA (Reuters) - Renegade Philippine soldiers who had holed up in a Manila hotel on Thursday calling for the overthrow of the government surrendered after elite forces battered down the door and fired tear gas into the lobby.

Special forces use an armoured personnel carrier to smash the front door of the Peninsula Hotel during their assault in Makati City, metro Manila November 29, 2007. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Senator Antonio Trillanes, who led a failed mutiny in 2003 against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, was taken away in handcuffs.

“We are going out for the sake of the safety of everybody,” he had told reporters earlier.

“For your sake, because we will not live with our conscience if some of you get hurt or get killed in the crossfire. We cannot afford that,” Trillanes said.

There were no reports of any casualties.

About two dozen rebel soldiers had earlier walked out of their own trial for the 2003 mutiny, escorted by guards assigned to keep them from escaping.

They marched to the Peninsula Hotel in Manila’s Makati financial district and took over the lobby, calling for the overthrow of President Arroyo.

“We have been witness and victims of the kind of ruthlessness this administration is giving to the people. Now like soldiers we are going to face this,” Trillanes told reporters, when asked if he was ready to face fresh charges over this incident.

An armoured personnel carrier bashed in the front doors of the hotel, fired tear gas canisters, and for a time parked in the trashed lobby of the luxury hotel, a favourite watering hole of Manila’s elite.

Another four armoured vehicles had parked in the driveway.

“We have been assaulted by tear gas,” Argee Guevarra, a member of an anti-Arroyo group, had told Reuters by phone.

Journalists trying to do live phone-ins spluttered and covered their faces with handkerchiefs as the tear gas rose from the lobby to higher floors.

Scores of journalists and hotel staff had been trapped in the hotel, along with a number of guests initially.

The rebel soldiers, who had earlier stopped people from leaving the hotel lobby as a 3 p.m. (7 a.m. British time) deadline for them to end their mutiny passed, later relented and allowed them to go out.

Arroyo, deeply unpopular due to long-running corruption allegations, has survived at least two coup plots and three impeachment bids because the jaded middle class is sick of political instability, and she has a huge majority in the lower house.

She has also been buoyed by a strong economy.

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The stock market and the peso pared earlier gains on the soldiers’ actions. The main index finished up 1.17 percent and has risen nearly 20 percent so far this year. The peso is Asia’s top performing currency, up 14.80 percent so far this year.

“It hurts the whole country,” Vivian Yuchengco, a director of the Philippine Stock Exchange, said. “People like that should be thrown in jail.”

The Philippines has seen more than a dozen coup attempts since the overthrow of President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and residents of Manila are used to varying degrees of unrest. Thursday’s drama attracted some curious onlookers.

Additional reporting by Rosemarie Franciso and Manny Mogato; Editing by Carmel Crimmins and Bill Tarrant

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