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Martial law extended in Philippines amid fight against two-month city siege

Politicians in the Philippines have overwhelmingly approved extending martial law in the south until the end of the year amid a massive offensive to combat a two-month siege.

House of Representatives Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said senators and House members voted 261-18 in favour of granting President Rodrigo Duterte's request in a special joint session on Saturday.

The 60-day martial law was to expire late on Saturday.

The military chief of staff, General Eduardo Ano, warned during the session that aside from the uprising by Islamic State group-linked militants in Marawi, extremist groups have plotted similar insurrections in other southern cities.

He said martial law has helped troops stop attacks, including bombings, elsewhere.

"There was an order for them to do their own version of Marawi in other areas, but we were able to stop this because of martial law," Gen Ano told the legislators.

Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana played down concerns of military abuses, saying no major human rights violations have been reported since Mr Duterte declared martial law.

Some opponents argue government forces could deal with the attack in Marawi, a centre of Islamic faith in the south, without resorting to martial law. Others worry the extension is too long.

Since the Marawi fighting began on May 23, at least 428 militants, 105 soldiers and police, and 45 civilians have been killed. Half a million residents have been displaced.

During the day-long special session of Congress, wounded army officer First Lieutenant Kent Fagyan said troops smashed concrete walls with sledgehammers to advance towards militant positions away from sniper fire.

Troops dealt with booby traps and had to wrest back control of Marawi communities room by room, he said.

"Inside, you can't eat on time, you can't sleep because you'll be awakened by explosions here and there starting in the morning up to evening for almost 24 hours," First Lt Fagyan said, thanking officials for their support.

"We feel that we're not alone fighting them with the clothes and water that you sent over," he said.

Waving Islamic State-style black flags, more than 600 heavily armed fighters stormed into Marawi, 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, Mr Duterte said in a letter to Congress this week.

He wrote the leadership of the Marawi siege "largely remains intact despite the considerable decline in the number of rebels fighting in the main battle area".

Other radical armed bands "are ready to reinforce Isnilon Hapilon's group or launch diversionary attacks and similar uprisings elsewhere", he said, referring to the leader of the attackers.

Intelligence reports that Hapilon sent funds and ordered allied militants to launch attacks in key cities across the south have been validated, Mr Duterte said.

The attackers' lasting power and large arsenal of weapons have surprised Mr Duterte and his officials, who acknowledged they underestimated the combat strength of the militants and their preparations, including a stockpile of arms in Marawi.

Troops long used to fighting insurgents in the jungles have struggled to rout the gunmen from Marawi's dense urban sprawl.

The crisis has sparked alarm that the Islamic State group may be gaining a foothold in Southeast Asia through allied local militants, as it faces major setbacks in Syria and Iraq.

The United States and Australia have deployed surveillance planes to Marawi, and China has provided weapons for Filipino troops, including those fighting in the besieged city.

AP

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