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Philippines political crisis overshadows Deiss visit

Protesters wield posters depicting Joseph Estrada as a mafia boss


The visit to the Philippines by the Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, is being overshadowed by a political crisis. The president, Joseph Estrada, is fighting for his political life amid a deepening corruption scandal.

A day after Deiss's arrival in Manila, Estrada's government is struggling to hold on to power following allegations that the president accepted payoffs from gambling bosses.

The scandal has already led to the vice president's resignation from the cabinet, as well as the departure of two leading members of Congress.

Deiss held brief talks with Estrada on Thursday, during which the Philippines leader thanked Switzerland for its help in repatriating hundreds of millions of dollars, that had been syphoned off into Swiss accounts by the former leader, Marcos.

The two also discussed a bilateral double taxation agreement, which has still to be approved by the Philippines senate. A foreign ministry spokesman said the political situation in the Philippines was not discussed.

Deiss also met the finance minister, José Pardo. They discussed the creation of a free trade zone in Asia, which is scheduled to come into existence in 2010.

Business leaders accompanying Deiss said they hoped the political scandal would not jeopardise stability. The immediate effect of the crisis was to send the currency plunging against the dollar and to depress the stock market.

Peter Hutzli of the Swiss business association, "economiesuisse" said the Philippines faced huge economic and political challenges in the years ahead. He said a third of the population were either unemployed or underemployed, and the population was growing by two per cent a year.

Deiss concludes his visit to the Philippines on Friday, when he will travel on to Bangladesh for the last leg of his Asian tour.

swissinfo with agencies

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