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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 July, 2004, 08:21 GMT 09:21 UK
Philippine ex-hostage comes home
Angelo de la Cruz, left, is greeted by his daughters Judith, center, and Jackie, second row right
Mr de la Cruz said he was tired but happy
A Philippine truck driver freed by militants in Iraq has arrived home to a hero's welcome.

Scores of journalists and many of Angelo de la Cruz's relatives were at Manila airport for a tearful reunion.

But despite the celebrations, Manila is now facing the fall-out from its decision to meet the militants' demands and pull its troops out of Iraq early.

US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone left Manila on Thursday for talks in Washington.

Mr Ricciardone stressed he was not being recalled, but said he could not rule out that there may be consequences as a result of Manila's actions. The US has said the pull-out sent the wrong message to militants.

Celebrity return

The airport's general manager, Edgardo Manda, called Mr de la Cruz's homecoming "one of the biggest arrivals for any celebrity" in recent years.

Close to tears, the truck driver greeted the waiting media saying he was still too shocked by his two-week ordeal to say how it had affected him.

Sign welcoming Angelo de la Cruz home
The nation has been anxiously awaiting Mr de la Cruz's return

"I want to thank President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and our government for giving value to my life," he said. "I can never ever forget that."

He wore a shirt printed with the words "I am a Filipino" on the front and "To work is honourable" on the back.

The plight of Mr de la Cruz, who like many Filipinos went abroad to earn money to support his family, has captivated the nation.

Streamers saying 'Welcome home' adorned Manila's streets and his hometown prepared huge celebrations.

Pig and cobra feast

Angelo de la Cruz was freed on Tuesday, after the last Philippine troops left Iraq.

He was reunited with his wife in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, and seven of his eight children were at Manila's airport to meet him on his return to the Philippines.

According to the BBC correspondent in Manila, Sarah Toms, the real celebrations for Mr de la Cruz will begin on Friday.

He is expected to return to his village where a feast of roast pig and braised cobra awaits him.

He will also attend a mass with President Arroyo at the Roman Catholic shrine where she prayed for his safe release.

The BBC's Andrew Harding
"Philippines satisfied kidnapers demand but angered many other countries"


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