Philippines’ transfer of power draws praise


Governments around the world on Saturday congratulated new Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was sworn in after Joseph Estrada quit in disgrace, and praised Filipinos for a transfer of power unmarred by violence.

The transition — in a country historically prone to coup attempts — drew praise from the governments of Japan, Thailand, Australia and the United States, where only hours later George W. Bush was to be inaugurated as president.

“The United States is pleased that the presidential crisis in the Philippines has been resolved without violence and in accordance with democratic and constitutional procedures,” the U.S. Embassy in Manila said in a statement.

The statement thanked Estrada for his “constant efforts on behalf of close U.S.-Philippine relations,” adding that “we have had an exceptionally strong working relationship with new President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the past.”

Political turmoil has gripped the Philippines since October over allegations that Estrada took gambling kickbacks and skimmed money from provincial tobacco taxes.

Estrada quit Saturday as tens of thousands of people marched on his residence and the Supreme Court declared that no one was in charge. Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was quickly sworn in.

In nearby Malaysia, some 3,000 protesters took inspiration from the Philippines’ peaceful, albeit boisterous, removal of Estrada. Gathering Saturday, they demanded that the country’s long time and authoritarian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad also step down.

As Malaysian riot police deployed water cannon near the protest, opposition politician Lim Kit Siang asked: “Is (Mahathir) afraid that people are uniting to challenge him like in the Philippines?”

In Australia, Prime Minister John Howard congratulated Macapagal-Arroyo. Government officials denied rumors that they had received a request from Philippine authorities to allow Estrada to fly there.

Estrada’s ouster made the front pages of newspapers in Indonesia, whose embattled President Abdurrahman Wahid is also facing increasing calls to quit as ethnic violence there persists.

Members of Hong Kong’s large Filipino community urged authorities to continue their probe into the allegations against Estrada.

“If ever justice is served, Estrada and his cronies should then be tried and punished for their crimes to the people,” said a statement by the Erap Resign Network-Hong Kong, which comprises 30 organizations of Filipinos living in the Chinese territory. Erap is a popular nickname for Estrada.

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, visiting Beijing to pressure mainland China on its human-rights practices, also had a message for the Philippines.

“Change … should be peaceful,” Annan said. “I think that is what we should all pray for.”