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Monday, July 26, 1999 Published at 18:43 GMT 19:43 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Filipinos demand more freedom

Thousands of protesters in Manila take to the streets, accusing Philippine President Joseph Estrada's government of curtailing democracy, curbing press freedom and fostering the return of cronyism.

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Protesters gag their mouths with tapes to symbolise attempts to curtail press freedom during a rally near the Congress building where Philippine President Joseph Estrada delivered his annual State of the Nation address.

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Protesters wear masks of suffering Filipinos.They say Mr Estrada's government is "anti-people, pro-Marcos, pro-cronies, pro-US and increasingly fascist."

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Hundreds of troops and police blocked the main body of protesters from marching to the Congress.

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As police and troops tried to control the protest, Mr Estrada gave an assurance that he was committed to freedom.

"I will always uphold freedom in all its various forms, including freedom of speech, of the press, of worship, assembly and of choice", he said in his State of the Nation address.

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The president is facing criticism from people who say he is trying to stifle the media. Last week the Manila Times closed after being sued by the president for libel.

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