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Huge Philippine procession secured tightly amid terror fears

MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- A massive crowd of mostly barefoot Filipino Catholics joined a raucous procession of a centuries-old black statue of Jesus Christ under extra-tight security Tuesday after the Philippines came under a disastrous militant attack last year.

Filipino Roman Catholic devotees jostle to get closer and kiss the image of the Black Nazarene in a raucous procession to celebrate its feast day Tuesday.         --Photo AP

Although the Philippine police and military said they have not monitored any specific threat, they deployed more than 6,000 personnel, including snipers and bomb squads backed by a surveillance helicopter and drones, to secure the annual procession of the wooden Black Nazarene along Manila’s streets. More than 700 devotees were treated by Red Cross volunteers, mostly for minor injuries and ailments and exhaustion, by midafternoon.
Authorities imposed a gun ban, cellphone signals were jammed sporadically in the vicinity of the procession and a team of bomb experts walked sniffer dogs along the route ahead of the mammoth crowd. Concrete barriers blocked the route, partly to prevent the kind of attacks that have been witnessed in Europe, where Islamic radicals have rammed vehicles into crowds, a military official said.
Hundreds of local and foreign militants laid siege for five months last year to southern Marawi city, leaving more than 1,100 combatants and civilians dead in the worst IS group-linked attack so far in Asia. Troops crushed the uprising in October, but an unspecified number of extremists managed to escape and other small but brutal groups in the country’s south still pose threats.
Security officials said they were also concerned with possible stampedes in a dawn-to-midnight event that some say could draw millions, although it’s difficult even to approximate the crowd size.
Mobs of devotees in maroon shirts dangerously squeezed their way into the tight pack of humanity around a carriage carrying the life-size statue. They threw small towels at volunteers on the carriage, which was being pulled by ropes, to wipe parts of the cross and the statue in the belief that the Nazarene’s powers would cure ailments and foster good health and fortune.
Ronald Malaguinio, a 38-year-old worker, carried a small replica of the Nazarene on a steel platform bedecked with yellow and white flowers for several kilometers (miles) from his home in Manila’s Tondo slum district to join the procession and pray for a son recovering from a heart ailment. “If the doctor says your son has a 50-50 chance of surviving, where will you go?” Malaguinio asked. “If money can’t cure diseases, the only other option is prayers. Ours have been heard and we’re here to thank the Nazarene.”


 


(Latest Update
January 10,
2018)


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