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Military making gains against militants in Philippines siege city

Philippine forces say they now control most of a southern city where militants linked to the Islamic State group launched a bloody siege nearly a week ago.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said on Monday that only small areas of Marawi are under the control of the militants.

The crisis in Marawi, home to some 200,000 people, has grown increasingly dire as the militants show unexpected strength, fending off a military that has unleashed attack helicopters, armoured vehicles and scores of soldiers.

On Sunday, Philippine forces said they found corpses in the streets, including at least eight civilians who appeared to have been executed by militants.

The overall death toll neared 100.

Military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said: "We can control who comes in and who comes out, who moves around and who doesn't, and we are trying to isolate these pockets of resistance that have remained."

He said combat operations were still going on, but the militants were weakening.

"We believe they're now low on ammunition and food," he said, speaking by phone from Manila, the capital.

"Compared to the initial days, there has been increasingly less resistance from the militants within Marawi."

The violence erupted last Tuesday night when the government launched a raid to capture Isnilon Hapilon, who is on Washington's list of most-wanted terrorists.

But the operation went wrong and militants rampaged through the city, torching buildings and fighting government forces in the streets.

A priest and several worshippers were taken hostage. There was no word on their condition.

Hapilon, an Islamic preacher, was once a commander of the Abu Sayyaf militant group who pledged allegiance to IS in 2014.

He now heads an alliance of at least 10 smaller militant groups, including the Maute, which has a heavy presence in Marawi and has been instrumental in fighting off government forces in the current battles.

All of the groups are inspired by IS, and d efence secretary Delfin Lorenzana has said that Hapilon has received funds from the group.

The violence prompted President Rodrigo Duterte last week to declare 60 days of martial law in the southern Philippines, where a Muslim separatist rebellion has raged for decades.

AP

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