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Philippines backs 'just offensive' on Afghanistan

By Rufi Vigilar in Manila

MANILA, Philippines (CNN) -- The Philippine government has given its "full support" for Sunday's U.S.-led air strikes on Afghanistan.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said that retaliatory action for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington were a "just offensive".

Spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao told CNN that the U.S. embassy in Manila had previously informed the Philippine government of the attacks against Afghanistan.

"Charge d'affaires Bob Fitz told us 30 minutes before the air strikes began," Tiglao said.

"The United States and its allies have demonstrated unparalleled restraint," he added, "waiting almost a month after the September 11 tragedy in exhausting all diplomatic and peaceful means to persuade the Taliban regime to close the terrorist camps and hand over the al Qaeda leaders."

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"The justness of the campaign is also demonstrated by the fact that it is supported and joined by most nations of the civilized world, including Muslim-dominated countries."

Tiglao confirmed that U.S. fighter jets and warships had transited through Philippine ports from Guam in the past two weeks.

But he added that Philippine officials were not told whether these were headed for the Middle East.

Full access

The Philippine government has granted U.S. fighter jets and warships full access to all ports in the Philippines and would allow U.S. troops and weapons to remain in the Philippines for as long as they were needed.

National Security Adviser Roilo Golez has quoted U.S. commander for the Pacific, Admiral Thomas Fargo, as saying that the global war against terrorism may last "one to two years."

On Monday some 30 activists picketed the U.S. embassy in Manila, as the military and police stepped up security at the embassy and key government installations.

Meanwhile the Department of Foreign Affairs has announced that the alert level has been raised at Philippine embassies in the Middle East.

Foreign affairs spokesman Vic Lecaros said "alert level two" is now in effect, urging Filipinos "not to venture outdoors."

However, he stressed that the evacuation of more than a million Filipino workers in the Middle East has not yet been ordered.

"There is no compelling reason to leave yet," Lecaros said.

Muslim protests

The Philippines has a large Muslim minority in the south of the country and groups there have said they plan to hold a rally against the U.S.-led air strikes on Tuesday.

Congressman Benasing Macarambon from the southern province of Lanao del Sur told CNN that the rally would be led by local ulamas and civic organizations in Marawi City.

He said that the majority of Muslim residents in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) are opposed to President Arroyo's support of U.S. strikes.

The congressman's district was home to three main camps of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country's largest Muslim rebel group, before they were overrun last year.

He said the air strikes against Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia were "uncalled for".

The U.S. government had not proved "beyond reasonable doubt" that Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden was behind the devastating September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, Macarambon said.

"Why should all people in Afghanistan suffer ?" He added that the U.S. should have instead conducted a "surgical operation" to pull bin Laden out of hiding.






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