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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bomb blasts kill 6, wound 24 in southern Philippines ahead of Asian summits

MANILA (AP) - A bomb exploded across the street from a public market in the southern Philippines on Wednesday, killing six people and wounding 22 others, and a second blast in the region hours later wounded two people near a police outpost, officials said.

The attacks came amid warnings that Muslim militants may try to disrupt this weekend's twin Asian summits in the central city of Cebu. Officials insisted security was tight, with police and troops on the highest alert.

The first blast ripped apart a stand selling lottery tickets in General Santos city, 620 miles southeast of Manila and about 310 miles south of the summit site, said Senior Superintendent Alfredo Toroctocon, the city police chief.

Three people died instantly and another two succumbed to their injuries, he said. Staff at St. Elizabeth Hospital reported another person died on arrival, bringing the death toll to six. Among the dead were two children - boys aged 8 and 12, the hospital staff said.

Chief Superintendent German Doria, the regional police chief, said police had no suspects immediately but that the regional militant network Jemaah Islamiyah and its ally, the local Abu Sayyaf group, ‘‘usually are the ones doing all these explosions in the region.''

But police were also looking into the possibility that the blast stemmed from the failure of the kiosk operator to pay winners of a lottery draw. ‘‘This Lotto outlet closed three days ago because many bettors won ... then all of a sudden an explosion occurred in front of the Lotto outlet,'' Doria said.

In the second explosion, about 65 miles to the north, an improvised bomb placed near the fence of a police outpost along the national highway in Kidapawan city exploded just after officers on duty left to go on patrol, senior police office Pascual Peroy said. Two male passers-by were wounded.

Army spokesman Maj. Ernesto Torres said authorities were looking at the possible involvement of ‘‘saboteurs'' to ongoing peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the main Muslim separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has waged a decades-old struggle for a homeland in the south.

He said the bombing occurred at the culmination of a two-day meeting between rebel and government representatives in General Santos.

Philippine National Police Chief Oscar Calderon, who is in Cebu to oversee security for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the East Asian summits, said earlier militants may try to embarrass the government by staging attacks during the sessions.

Chief Superintendent Romeo Ricardo, director of the national police intelligence group, said police and army troops launched operations against militants throughout the archipelago to prevent them from carrying out attacks.

Troops killed a senior al-Qaida-linked militant who allegedly led an urban terror unit of Abu Sayyaf, military officials said Wednesday.

Binang Sali was the ‘‘founder and spiritual adviser'' of Abu Sayyaf's urban terror group operating on Jolo and in southern Zamboanga city, where he was also wanted for several ransom kidnappings and passing counterfeit U.S. dollars, Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro said.

Sali's death ‘‘translates to one bomber less that could carry out an attack on any target'' during the summits in the Philippines' second-largest urban center, military Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon said.

The government's terror sweep also led to the deaths of five other Abu Sayyaf members and an Indonesian militant in southern Tawi Tawi province last week, and the arrest of a bomb suspect two days earlier just southeast of Manila, Ricardo said.
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