METRO MANILA, December 11, 2003  (STAR) By Cecille Suerte Felipe - Riot police used truncheons and water cannons to disperse some 1,000 activists who gathered near the Malacañang Palace yesterday to protest alleged human rights abuses by the government.

The march started at 11:40 a.m. on España.

Protesters, mostly from the leftist group Bayan, hurled stones at police and hit them with their placards. About two dozen police pushed back about 300 activists from a bridge a few hundred meters away from the main gate of Malacañang.

At least 30 militants were hurt. Joining members of Bayan were those from Sanlakas, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Anakbayan, Anakpawis and the Movement for National Democracy.

PO2 Arvin Valenzuela of the field post of the Western Police District said 50 riot cops tried to stop the rallyists at Nicanor Reyes street (formerly Morayta) in Sampaloc, Manila, but the marchers insisted on going to Chino Roces Bridge (formerly Mendiola Bridge).

It was at this juncture that additional forces from the WPD were deployed. Water cannons were then used on the rallyists, Valenzuela said.

However, some rallyists managed to reach Mendiola, a few meters away from Malacañang after the riot cops ran out of water.

The rallyists, most of them drenched, managed to hold a short program on Mendiola Bridge. The program ended at 3:35 p.m.

The protesters were observing the 55th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights . They complained of a rising trend of state repression and decried "the snail-paced justice system hindered by political compromises."

"President Arroyo continues to use various instruments of state terror under the guise of fighting crime and terrorism," Bayan spokesman Renato Reyes Jr. said, citing recently erected joint military and police checkpoints in Metro Manila and a proposal to introduce mandatory identification cards.

The government said the checkpoints are meant to deter the sharp rise in kidnappings for ransom.

Reyes said Arroyo’s anti-terror campaign was the biggest cause of human rights violations and that the situation was likely to worsen ahead of the May 10, 2004 national elections.

Local human rights group Karapatan said 2,461 cases of human rights abuses involving 169,530 people were reported in the period from Arroyo’s rise to power in January 2001 to Nov. 19. The figures include 271 people killed and 111,605 others displaced in military operations against southern rebels, the group said.

Wilhelm Soriano, a member of the government’s Commission on Human Rights, said the police and military continue to commit torture and other abuses. Without legislation declaring torture a crime, the victims or the commission can seek justice only by filing cases of physical injuries – a lesser offense, he said.

And while the commission can investigate cases on its own, he said it is "a toothless tiger" because it lacks power to prosecute. – With AP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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