Philippine police van runs over protesters
A Philippine police van on Wednesday rammed and ran over baton-wielding protesters outside the US embassy in Manila, with the driver of the vehicle saying he panicked because he feared being mobbed.
Hundreds of protesters had gathered at the embassy to voice support for President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent tirades against the United States, the Philippines’ longtime ally, and call for American troops to leave the country.
Television footage showed protesters hitting the vehicle with long sticks and breaking through a security cordon close to the embassy. Police also fired tear gas and used their batons to strike back at protesters.
At one stage the van reversed quickly into dozens of people then forward again, running over a man, who was able to stand up and stumble away.
“They were trying to take over the vehicle, trying to overturn it,” the vehicle’s driver, police officer Franklin Khu, told reporters afterwards, according to ABS CBN television, which filmed the incident.
Asked if he panicked, Khu said: “Of course, our vehicle was overturning and if they seized control, they could run down other policemen.”
Police chiefs said some of the protesters had sustained minor injuries, although rally organisers said 50 were hurt and five had been taken to hospital.
Photos showed a second man trapped underneath the van after it had stopped, with his leg and hips under one of the back tyres. He was later seen limping away.
Police insisted the protesters had instigated the violence.
“We had to disperse them. They started it. They were trying to enter the embassy,” Chief Inspector Arsenio Riparip, one of the officers overseeing the incident, told AFP.
– Blame game –
But the protesters accused the police of starting the violence.
“It was the police who attacked the protesters. First they rammed the police vehicle against the people. Then they released tear gas and hit us with truncheons,” said one of the organisers, Amirah Lidasant.
Christina Palabay, secretary-general of the leftist rights group Karapatan, said 31 protesters were arrested.
Palabay slammed the police reaction as excessive, even if a few of the protesters had instigated the violence.
“They don’t have to run down people because of what some protesters did,” she told AFP.
National police spokesman Senior Superintendent Dionardo Carlos said in a statement that Manila police had been ordered to conduct an investigation to determine if proper procedures had been followed in dispersing the group.
“The PNP (Philippine National Police) assures the public that the investigation will determine the liabilities of all personalities from both sides whose involvement led to the violent incident,” he said.
US embassy spokeswoman Molly Koscina declined to comment on Wednesday’s violence, referring media inquiries to the local police.
The Philippines has for decades been one of the US’s most important and loyal allies in Asia, but Duterte, who describes himself as a socialist and has close links to communists, has threatened to cut ties as he shifts closer to Beijing.
This has partly been in response to US criticism of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, which has killed thousands of people.
Duterte, who took office in late June, is currently in Beijing for a charm offensive aimed at improving ties with China and attracting billions of dollars of Chinese investment.