Fierce firefight as Philippines’ toughest urban war down to last building

Damaged buildings and houses are seen after government troops cleared the area from pro-Daesh militant groups inside the war-torn area of Marawi City in southern Philippines. (Reuters)
Updated 22 October 2017
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Fierce firefight as Philippines’ toughest urban war down to last building

MARAWI CITY: Philippine troops were locked in an intense urban firefight on Sunday with the last remnants of a pro-Daesh alliance, as the army sought to declare an end to the country’s biggest internal security crisis in years.
An estimated 30 people, including militants and some of their family members, were battling to hold a fortified, two-story building next to Marawi City’s vast Lake Lanao, and appeared ready to fight to the death, according to the deputy commander of the operation.
“There’s just one building and they’re inside,” Col. Romeo Brawner told a news conference.
“We believe these are ones who decided to fight it out, because they believe that if they die there they will go to Heaven.”
Brawner said soldiers were using loudspeakers to urge them to surrender, and anticipated the gunfight could go on until midnight. They did not know how many people in the building were alive or dead, he said.
The siege of Marawi has stunned the Philippines and stoked wider concerns that Daesh loyalists have learned how to thrive in impoverished Muslim areas of the island of Mindanao and use its jungles and mountains as staging posts to launch attacks.
Those fears are compounded by the Marawi rebels’ ability to recruit young fighters, stockpile huge amounts of arms and endure five months of ground offensive and government air strikes that have devastated the city.
The military made a significant gain with last week’s killing of Isnilon Hapilon, Daesh’s “emir” in Southeast Asia and Omarkhayam Maute, a leader of the Maute militant group.
Another leader and possible bankroller of the operation, Malaysian Mahmud Ahmad, was likely killed also, the military said.
Brawner said the authorities believed foreign operatives were among those still fighting and it was clear there was now a leadership vacuum.
“At this point we don’t know who is really the leader,” he added.
“Our government forces will try to do everything to finish the firefight today.”
Troops have started a phased withdrawal and the authorities may soon allow some residents to return to homes not damaged by the fighting, which displaced at least 300,000 people.
More than 1,000 have been killed, mostly militants.
The government estimates the rebuilding of Marawi could cost at least 50 billion pesos.


British PM Theresa May dealt new Brexit defeat in upper house of parliament

Updated 9 min 23 sec ago
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British PM Theresa May dealt new Brexit defeat in upper house of parliament

LONDON: Prime Minister Theresa May was dealt a new defeat by Britain’s upper house of parliament on Wednesday over her Brexit plans, this time in a challenge to the government’s push to adopt wide-ranging powers to amend laws.
The defeat is the latest in the House of Lords for May and her Conservative government as parliament debates the EU withdrawal bill which will sever ties with the European Union and pave the way for Britain to leave in March next year.
The vote can be overturned by the lower house, the House of Commons, but underscores the deep divisions over Brexit across parliament and could encourage lawmakers hoping to derail May’s plans to forge a new relationship with the EU.
While many of the defeats were expected, it is the rifts over whether to remain in a customs union with the EU that have taken center stage. A new debate on this is scheduled in the Commons for Thursday, adding to the pressure on May.
After Wednesday’s defeat over plans to adopt the so-called Henry VIII powers, which are named after the 16th century monarch who ruled by proclamation but are seen as a power grab by opposition parties, the government was expected to offer peers some concessions on their more detailed objections.
“This House has a responsibility not to give the executive more power than is necessary,” Lord (Peter) Goldsmith told peers before they voted.
The Lords voted 349-221 in favor of an amendment to change the wording of the bill so that instead of ministers being able to use the Henry VIII powers where they consider it “appropriate,” they would have to prove it was “necessary.”
The government has said it needs the powers to be able to meet a tight deadline to effectively “copy and paste” EU rules and regulations into British law by the time of Brexit.
The defeats, while embarrassing, have so far failed to shake the government, but after being debated in the Lords, the bill will return to the Commons, where lawmakers will decide whether to keep the amendments or overturn them.
Earlier, Brexit minister David Davis told lawmakers he expected parliament to uphold the government’s policy “for good reason,” and again said that Britain would leave the EU’s customs union after Brexit in favor of a new trade agreement.