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Churchgoers, Priest Taken Hostage in Philippines Besieged City

Likewise, he also denied that the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are downplaying the situation in Marawi City.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday placed Mindanao and nearby island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Taw-Tawi under martial law, and vowed to be "harsh" in dealing with the local militant group, Xinhua news agency reported.

Troops and police officers were engaged in fights with pro-Islamic State Maute insurgents on Tuesday in Marawi City, the Philippine army said.

"Anyone now holding a gun, confronting government with violence, my orders are spare no one, let us solve the problems of Mindanao once and for all", said Duterte, who is from the island, after cutting short a visit to Russian Federation and returning to Manila.

Social media published photos of militants driving around the town in a police vehicle they had seized, flying a black Isis-style flag on the roof. Updates to follow as the operation is still ongoing. "I'm going home. I will deal with the problem once I arrive".

"There are Maute snipers all around, so the troops are still holding and elements have already joined", he said.

At least 50 Maute members have been killed in isolated clashes with Philippine police and soldiers in the past five months.

Authorities estimated the number of extremists who occupied buildings, including City Hall, at around 100.

However Abella and Lorenzana emphasised on Tuesday that martial law on this occasion remained restricted to Mindanao.




Duterte, 72, known internationally for waging a war on drugs that has claimed thousands of lives, had said on many occasions since becoming president previous year that he was prepared to declare martial law nationally as well as in Mindanao. Martial Law is a power granted by the Philippine Constitution to use military power to suppress rebellion.

The troops tried to contain the fighting in specific areas but the militants attempted to conduct diversionary tactics in other areas in Marawi City to ease off the pressure launched by the military forces against Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, the alleged ISIS-inspired leader being protected by the Maute Group, Galvez added. Black flags of the global terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS) were also seen atop vehicles.

"We beg every Filipino to pray fervently for Father Chito and for other hostages", concluded the statement.

An estimated 600 fighters from South-east Asian nations are fighting in Syria and Iraq.

"They understand that the presence of the President is essential in the Philippines".

He added: 'They have threatened to kill the hostages if the government forces unleashed against them are not recalled'.

He is believed to be recovering from wounds sustained in a military strike in January. The IS-linked Abu Sayyaf group is responsible for piracy and kidnap-for-ransom activities in the waters bordering the Philippines and Malaysia.

Earlier in May the United States warned of possible kidnappings in other parts of the country, including Cebu.

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