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Last Updated: Monday, 24 July 2006, 09:59 GMT 10:59 UK
Arroyo address stresses economy
Opposition supporters gathered outside Congress
Security was tight for the annual speech to Congress
Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has emphasised economic issues in her annual speech to the nation.

She vowed to address social inequality and economic disparities in her State of the Nation speech to Congress.

As she spoke, thousands of opposition supporters gathered outside, waving placards and calling for the president to be removed.

Around 16,000 police and soldiers were deployed around Congress and maintained a heavy presence on the streets.

Earlier this month, security forces said they had foiled a plan by rogue army officers to attack Congress during Ms Arroyo's address.

'What people want'

Ms Arroyo has continued to be plagued political difficulties in recent months.

She was hit by allegations of vote rigging in the wake of the general election in 2004 and survived an attempt to impeach her in September 2005.

In February she declared a brief state of emergency over what she described as a coup plot, a move criticised by the media and opposition as a violation of civil liberties.

Gloria Arroyo (left) greets Filipino evacuees returning from Lebanon on 23 July
Gloria Arroyo has come through a year of bitter opposition

But Ms Arroyo chose to steer clear of politics, saying: "I am not here to talk about politics, I am here to talk about what people want."

Instead, she focused on the economy, pledging further funding for education, infrastructure and health services.

She said corrupt officials would be punished and promised to keep food and electricity affordable.

On security, Ms Arroyo said funds were now available to "stamp out terrorism and lawless elements".

But she touched on her political difficulties, accusing opponents defeated in the election of making "the country pay for their frustrated ambition".

"There must be a better way so that those who win the nation's mandate can work without delay and whimsical obstruction," she said.

Earlier in the day, the former president, Joseph Estrada, gave his own message in which he accused Ms Arroyo's government of corruption and cracking down on dissent.

"Let us join hands to change this government and its rotten system," he said in a statement.

Mr Estrada faces corruption charges and is currently under house arrest in Manila.

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