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Monday, 30 September, 2002, 22:24 GMT 23:24 UK
Philippine executions suspended
Prison guards relax outside the death chamber of the National Penitentiary at Muntinlupa
The death penalty is carried out by lethal injection
The president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has suspended the executions of all prisoners on death row while Congress debates a proposal to abolish capital punishment.

The move is expected to draw strong support from the country's Roman Catholic church and human rights groups, but provoke criticism from anti-crime groups worried about growing lawlessness.

Foreign Secretary Blas Ople told reporters he had relayed the president's decision to ambassadors from European Union countries who called on him at the foreign ministry.

Anti-death penalty protesters
Human rights groups and the Church oppose executions
"I informed the EU ambassadors that the president has suspended all executions while Congress is still debating the merits of the death penalty law," Mr Ople said after the meeting.

He said the EU group reacted to the news with "great enthusiasm".

More than 1,000 prisoners are on death row in the Philippines, 29 of them women.

Public pressure

Mrs Arroyo's decision came a week after the Philippines Supreme Court rejected a petition by 30 convicts to stop their executions while Congress was debating the proposal to abolish capital punishment.

The court said only Mrs Arroyo had the power to pardon them.

Last month, she gave a 90-day reprieve for three rapists facing execution in deference to the Congress debates.

The Philippines abolished the death penalty in 1987 but restored it in 1994

Several convicts were executed in 1999 and 2000 but the then-president Joseph Estrada ordered an indefinite freeze following pressure from rights groups and the Roman Catholic church.

President Arroyo - who is a devout Catholic - lifted the moratorium in 2001 amid a rash of high-profile crimes, particularly kidnappings, which had enraged the public.

See also:

24 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
04 Jan 99 | Asia-Pacific
27 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
01 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
19 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
04 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
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