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Duterte flies to besieged city and warns of other attacks

The Philippine president has flown for the first time to a besieged southern city to cheer troops who have been trying to quell a nearly two-month uprising by Islamic State group-linked militants, who he warned were plotting to attack other cities.

Clad in a camouflage uniform with a pistol tucked in a holster, President Rodrigo Duterte landed with top generals in a military camp in Marawi city which briefly came under fire from militant snipers shortly before he arrived, military officials said.

Mr Duterte gave a talk to troops and inspected recovered rebel rifles and other weapons in the camp, which lies outside the battle zone but remains dangerous because of sniper fire and stray bullets.

"It was an unspoken statement of a commander-in-chief willing to risk his life and limb just to be with his men at the thick of the conflict," said military chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Ano, who accompanied the president.

His past attempts to fly to the lakeside city were aborted because of bad weather.

"The soldiers and police are very happy over his visit because this proves that the president is very firm, very dedicated in supporting most specially the operations here," military spokesman Lt Col Jo-ar Herrera told reporters.

Mr Duterte thanked the troops for their heroism and sacrifices, Mr Herrera said.

Mr Duterte told Congress in a letter this week that even though troops have regained control of much of Marawi and killed hundreds of militants, "the rebellion persists and a lot more remains to be done to completely quell the same".

The militants' leadership, he said, remains largely intact and has funded diversionary attacks on other southern cities.

The seven-page letter aims to convince politicians to extend Mr Duterte's 60-day declaration of martial law in the south until the end of the year.

The statements in the letter appear to differ from his assurance last week that the Marawi crisis, the most serious he has faced so far, could end in 10 to 15 days.

In a separate report to the Senate, the military said the attackers' main leader, Isnilon Hapilon, "allowed the escape of 96 young recruits fighting in Marawi and instructed them to continue jihad outside Marawi".

Waving IS group-style black flags, the heavily armed fighters stormed into Marawi, a centre of Islamic faith in the south of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation, on May 23, occupying buildings, houses and mosques and taking hostages.

Several foreign fighters, including 20 Indonesians and a Malaysian financier known as Mahmud bin Ahmad, joined the insurrection, the president said.

Officials say at least 565 people, including 421 militants and 99 soldiers and policemen, have been killed in the worst urban uprising by Muslim militants in the volatile south in decades.

Nearly half a million residents have been displaced in Marawi and outlying towns by the fighting.

AP

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