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Estrada transfer cleared as protests continue

Estrada supporter
Supporters of the former president say thousands more Estrada loyalists are heading for the capital  

In this story:

Religious support

Plunder charges




MANILA, Philippines -- Philippine police are expected to transfer jailed former President Joseph Estrada to a detention center outside Manila at the weekend.

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The country's anti-graft court, the Sandiganbayan, authorized the move amid growing concerns over the possibility of violence by protesters still loyal to Estrada.

The move comes as tens of thousands of Estrada supporters camped out for a third straight night on the streets of the capital demanding his release from prison where he is awaiting trial on corruption charges.

The protests have been peaceful so far, but security forces are on high alert.

"We have considered all possible scenarios," police general Hermogenes Ebdane told Reuters. "We are on heightened alert status. We are ready for all contingencies."

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Authorities say more Estrada supporters are likely to converge on Manila this weekend and the opposition has said it will step up efforts to secure the former president's release.

Religious support

Two influential religious groups in the Philippines are calling on their members to rally in support of former President Joseph Estrada.

Phil Estrada
Estrada and his son Jose are being detained at the same facility  

The Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) and El Shaddai supported Estrada's successful bid for the presidency in 1998.

One member of the INC told CNN that followers are being encouraged to join the pro-Estrada demonstrations.

However, El Shaddai leader Mike Velarde, who is Estrada's spiritual adviser, has denied reports that he gave orders for a show of support for the former president, although members of his congregation have been seen among the crowds.

Protestors calling for Estrada's release are gathering at a Catholic shrine at the Epifano delos Santos Avenue (EDSA), but this is not pleasing the country's powerful Catholic Church.

Local media says that church officials are calling on the government to disperse the demonstrators, who they say are vandalizing the shrine.

The EDSA shrine is the site of the massive protests that led to Estrada's ouster three months ago and was also the center of the first People Power revolt, which led to the overthrow of then President Ferdinand Marcos.

Plunder charges

Estrada is accused of economic plunder, which carries the maximum penalty of death, and which under Philippine law is a non-bailable offense.

However the country's justice officials have said Estrada can be granted bail if the evidence against him is not strong.

Estrada's lawyer, Raymond Fortun has said Estrada's release from police detention would calm the anger of his supporters.

On Friday, the anti-graft court heard Estrada's lawyers appeal to put the former leader under house arrest and treat him with dignity, but the court has not said when it will rule on the appeal.

The anti-graft court has also called on Estrada's lawyers to present evidence that backs up their request that the former leader be put under house arrest instead.

Estrada has called the corruption charges against him "a total fabrication" and a violation of his civil rights.

Speaking to CNN just after his dramatic arrest, Estrada said he doubted that he would get a fair trial under the current administration.

Nonetheless Estrada, the only Philippine president ever arrested for graft, said he remained confident that "the truth will come out in the end."

After three days of protest Manila is being swept with rumors that the Estrada camp is offering huge bribes to lure police and military officers to join a coup plot to over throw his successor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and seize back the presidency.

However Armed Forces Chief General Diomedio Villanueva has dismissed such reports.

"I know that our soldiers, our officers are not for sale," he told local radio.

"I am very, very confident that the Armed Forces will come out of this very, very solid as before. We have only one organization and I do not intend to have it divided," he said.

Arroyo herself has refrained from comment on the pro-Estrada rallies, saying merely "the government is committed to due process even as we run after corruption."

Reuters contributed to this report.



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