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Last Updated: Monday, 25 July, 2005, 06:35 GMT 07:35 UK
Philippine MPs challenge Arroyo
Gloria Arroyo, 19 July 2005
President Arroyo has faced weeks of mounting criticism
Opposition MPs in the Philippines have launched an impeachment motion against the country's President, Gloria Arroyo.

The move against Mrs Arroyo, who is battling allegations of electoral fraud, was widely expected.

But the procedure is set to be slow - the motion was first sent to the lower house's justice committee, which has 60 working days to weigh its merits.

The move came as Mrs Arroyo prepared to give a crucial state of the nation address.

The impeachment motion submitted to the country's House of Representatives, or lower house, accused the president of betraying her country over a telephone call she made to an independent election official during the counting of the votes last year.

Accused of using position to influence 2004 poll
Husband accused of influence-peddling and taking bribes
Son and brother-in-law also implicated
Family denies all allegations

"By so flouting justice and the rule of law, she has committed an unforgivable outrage against the Filipino people," the Associated Press reported the complaint as saying. The complaint filed by her opponents said she "stole, cheated and lied" to stay in office.

Mrs Arroyo has admitted making the call, but strongly denies trying to rig the vote.

Speaker Jose de Venecia, an ally of Mrs Arroyo, sent the impeachment motion to the justice committee, which has 60 working days to analyse the complaint before it is voted on by the lower house.

The motion must be endorsed by at least a third of the House of Representatives before it can be sent to the upper house of Congress for a trial by senators.

A conviction by two-thirds of the Senate would effect the president's dismissal.

Ronaldo Zamora, an opposition member of the lower house, said Mrs Arroyo's opponents still lacked the required support of one-third of the 235 lawmakers.

Justice committee to consider for 60 days
Needs support of one-third of 235 lawmakers in lower house
If it gets that, upper house votes on motion
Support of two thirds of 23-member upper house will remove Arroyo from office

"We are close. We haven't crossed 79 but I'm confident that we will get that number," he said on radio on Monday.

The BBC's Sarah Toms in Manila says the opposition was initially reluctant to pursue the impeachment route because of the president's majorities in both houses, but since the defection of some of Mrs Arroyo's allies, her opponents have warmed to the idea.

Later on Monday, Mrs Arroyo is due to deliver her annual state of the nation address, which will set out her goals for the year.

Her Executive Secretary, Eduardo Ermita, said her speech would tackle issues such as constitutional change, electoral and economic reform, and the peace process with Muslim and communist rebels, Reuters news agency reported.

"The president wants to make it clear to the people that there is a clear direction and roadmap and it is being quietly implemented amid all these intrigues," Mr Ermita said.

Some see the speech as a key chance to win back public and political opinion and maximise the chances of remaining in office.

Mounting scandal

Mrs Arroyo has faced mounting pressure to resign since she admitted making the telephone call a few weeks ago.

She effectively sacked her entire cabinet team, losing a sizeable number of allies in the process.

The president has publicly said she is prepared to face impeachment as part of an effort to end the mounting scandal.

Earlier this month, she announced plans to establish a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate the allegations swirling around her.

Up to 20,000 protesters, carrying streamers saying "Oust Gloria now!" and "Goodbye Gloria," gathered in front of the House of Representatives - the site of her state of the nation address - on Monday.

There have been regular street protests against the president in recent weeks, but the largest such crowd has numbered 30,000 people, far short of the hundreds of thousands which joined the "people power" uprisings that overthrew President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Joseph Estrada in 2001.

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