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Thousands attend wake of former Philippines president Corazon Aquino

Weeping mourners have been paying their respects at the wake of former Philippines President Corazon Aquino, with some pledging to carry on her legacy by protecting the democracy she helped install 23 years ago.

Filipinos have been sensitive to any slide back toward autocratic rule since Ms Aquino and Roman Catholic leader Cardinal Jaime Sin led the 1986 “people power” revolt that ousted long-time dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Thousands of people lined up for hours to pay their last respects to Ms Aquino at a suburban Manila university stadium, where her coffin was displayed on a platform teeming with yellow roses and orchids.

Her body will be moved today to Manila Cathedral to lie in state until Wednesday's funeral.

Ms Aquino (76) died early on Saturday at a Manila hospital after a year-long battle with colon cancer.

Months before she was diagnosed with cancer, Ms Aquino joined street protests organised amid opposition fears that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo could amend the country's 1987 Constitution to lift term limits or impose martial law to stay in power when her term ends next year. President Arroyo said she has no desire to extend her term.

President Arroyo declared a 10-day national mourning period starting on Saturday, and her aides said she would cut short a US trip.

Pope Benedict XVI expressed his condolences to Mrs Aquino's family and the Philippine government, recalling her “courageous commitment to the freedom of the Filipino people, her firm rejection of violence and intolerance,” according to Manila Archbishop Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales.

US President Barack Obama was deeply saddened by Aquino's death, White House Press secretary Robert Gibbs said on Saturday.\[s.alexander\]

Marcos' widow, Imelda, and former leader Joseph Estrada also expressed sadness at Ms Aquino's passing. Ms Aquino helped depose Estrada over alleged corruption in the second non-violent “People Power” revolt in 2001, but the two reconciled in recent years. He attended Ms Aquino's wake with his family.

“Let us now unite in prayers for Cory, the Filipino people and for our country,” the 80-year-old Marcos told reporters in a church in Manila's Tondo slum district.

Marcos publicly sought prayers for Ms Aquino when she was ill, despite referring to her as a “usurper” and a “dictator” just weeks before.

Ms Aquino's youngest daughter Kris thanked the Marcos family in a rare reconciliatory gesture.

“I never thought that the time would come but I say 'thank you' to the Marcoses for really praying for mom. I felt the sincerity,” she told ABS-CBN network in an interview.

She also said her mother had forgiven all her political enemies.

Nevertheless, Kris Aquino said her family refused President Arroyo's administration's offer of a state funeral because the government had attempted to recall two soldiers assigned to guard her mother when she was still alive.

Former Philippine presidents traditionally have the right to retain at least two guards.

Aquino's only son, Sen Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, said the family would not be too enthusiastic to see President Arroyo at the funeral but that she could pay her respects.

Ms Aquino rose to prominence after the assassination in 1983 of her husband, opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr.

A housewife who was reluctantly thrust into power, Ms Aquino struggled in office to meet high public expectations. Her land redistribution program fell short of ending economic domination by the landed elite. Her leadership, especially in social and economic reform, was often indecisive, leaving many of her closest allies disillusioned by the end of her term.

Still, the bespectacled, smiling woman in her trademark yellow dress remained beloved in the Philippines, where she was affectionately referred to as “Tita (Auntie) Cory.”

Belfast Telegraph


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