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The BBC's Jim Fish
"The disgraced President will be fighting for his life"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 27 June, 2001, 08:00 GMT 09:00 UK
Estrada refuses to plead
Estrada and wife Luisa in court
Estrada and wife Luisa arrived safely in court
Former Philippines president Joseph Estrada has refused to enter a plea on perjury charges in a Manila court.

He is accused of falsifying the extent of his assets in official papers, the first of a series of corruption charges against him.


I will have to follow the advice of my lawyer and not enter any plea

Former President Joseph Estrada
Thousands of extra police officers have been stationed outside the court - they say they fear mass demonstrations by Mr Estrada's supporters and violence by his opponents.

It is Mr Estrada's first appearance in court since being arrested in April and the first time a former Philippines head of state has faced trial on criminal charges.

Correspondents say he arrived in court looking calm and took his seat next to his wife and two sons.

He told the court: "Your honour, I will have to follow the advice of my lawyer and not enter any plea."

His refusal to plead means the court automatically enters a plea of "not guilty" for the defendant. The next hearing has been set for 2 August.

Protests

About 70 protesters gathered outside court demanding Mr Estrada's conviction.

Anti-Estrada protesters outside Manila courtroom
Pushing and shoving but mainly peaceful protests outside the court
They were surrounded by police and witnesses said the demonstration was peaceful.

A judge rejected a last-minute attempt by Mr Estrada's lawyers to have the perjury charge thrown out.

He is accused of falsifying the extent of his assets in official papers.

At risk

The court also turned down a request from police to switch the venue from the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court due to security concerns.

Protester being carried away from May riot
The authorities had feared a repeat of 1 May riots
The police voiced concern that the former president could be at risk during the transfer between the hospital, where he is currently receiving treatment, and the courtroom.

Mr Estrada is due to face a second court hearing on the more serious charge of economic plunder next month, an offence punishable by death.

He is accused of amassing a personal fortune of millions of dollars through corruption. He strongly denies any wrongdoing.

Appeal for calm

Mr Estrada appealed to his supporters on Tuesday to remain calm and to refrain from violence.

In a statement issued from hospital he accused President Gloria Arroyo of using threats of "imagined destabilisation" to justify putting the police and army onto heightened alert.

On 1 May, several people including two police officers died in riots as about 20,000 of Mr Estrada's supporters tried to storm the presidential palace.

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See also:

20 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Estrada to stay in hospital
14 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Estrada 'at risk in prison'
21 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Arroyo's Estrada prison 'deal' criticised
02 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines president widens crackdown
25 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Jailed Estrada defiant
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