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The BBC's Jonathan Head in Manila
"This is an uneasy time for the Philippines"
 real 56k

Thursday, 18 January, 2001, 06:38 GMT
Estrada tries to ride out storm
Cardinal Jaime Sin
Cardinal Sin: Called on protestors to form a human chain
Philippine President Joseph Estrada has moved to defuse opposition anger at the collapse of his impeachment trial.

Defence Secretary Orlando Mercado said that the president had been busy meeting key advisers and had called for "maximum tolerance" in dealing with opposition protests in the capital, Manila, now entering their second day.

Prosecution seats lie empty
Prosecution seats lie empty
The trial was thrown into disarray on Tuesday after senators - who are acting as judges in the trial - decided to bar the inspection of the president's bank accounts.

The entire prosecution team, as well as the Senate president resigned over the decision.

Protests

The country's military commander, General Angelo Reyes, has warned that firm action will be taken against anyone trying to exploit the situation for political ends.

Joseph Estrada
Estrada has denied the charges of bribery and corruption
The protests, held in some provincial cities as well as Manila, are being backed by the powerful Roman Catholic Church.

Some opposition leaders have called for a repeat of the 1986 People Power revolution which ousted the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Thousands have gathered outside the Edsa Shrine, a monument to that uprising.

Correspondents say that now that the president's opponents have abandoned their legal challenge, they are hoping that street protests will persuade him to step down.

The leader of the country's Roman Catholic church said the protests would be stepped up.

Cardinal Jaime Sin said he would hold mass at 1800 (0900 GMT) and urged protesters to form a human chain from the Edsa Shrine to another monument 10km (six miles) away.

Estrada still popular

The trial has sharply divided the country.

Despite the strong allegations of corruption made in the proceedings, the president has maintained his popularity among the poor, who remember him as a popular film star.

The protests are still a largely middle class phenomenon.

The BBC's South-east Asia correspondent, Jonathan Head, says that until that changes, Mr Estrada will probably resist the calls for him to step down.

The financial markets have reacted badly to the political situation.

The Philippine peso fell sharply on Wednesday to a new record low of 55.75 against the dollar.

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See also:

17 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Uproar at Estrada trial
10 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Estrada 'interfered in murder trial'
08 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Mrs Estrada faces bribe claims
05 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Estrada mistresses to testify
22 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Surprise witness stuns Estrada trial
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