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Philippine leader returns home to continuing political crisis

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Manila (dpa) - Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Sunday returned home to a continuing political crisis after a euphoric trip to the United States, where she presided over a meeting of the United Nations' Security Council.

Arroyo was the first Asian and first woman head of state to chair a U.N. Security Council session, during which two important resolutions on terrorism and conflict prevention were adopted, the government noted.

But such distinction was lost in the controversies Arroyo was facing with her return home, including allegations that Washington has been spying on the Philippines and a questionable contract with a U.S. lobby firm.

Arroyo also faces continuing protests from groups vowing to oust her over allegations of election fraud. Before her trip, she survived an opposition bid to impeach her in Congress over the cheating charges.

Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said Arroyo was "very energized" after the U.N. meeting and prepared "to face the problems that need to be given attention."

"Let us savour the triumph of the president," he said in a radio interview after their arrival. "Let us concentrate on things which will unite us rather than things which will divide us."

While Arroyo was in the U.S., a former Filipino police officer and a Filipino-American analyst of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were arrested and charged for alleged espionage.

The two - ex-cop Michael Ray Aquino and FBI intelligence analyst Leandro Aragoncillo - allegedly conspired to steal classified documents on the Philippines and passed them on to Filipino politicians.

Some politicians have cried foul over the alleged spying by the FBI in the country, and urged the government to file a diplomatic protest with the U.S.

Arroyo must also face questions about a 750,000-dollar-a-year contract with a U.S. law firm, hired to lobby for grants and financial assistance for the Philippines.

The contract with Venable LLP was signed by National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, who defended the deal by saying that the firm's retainer would be paid by anonymous donors from the Philippine business community.

Arroyo has been fighting her worst political crisis since June with the release of illegally wiretapped conversations allegedly between her and an election official about rigging the results of the May 2004 presidential vote.

While she has apologized for improperly talking with an election official while votes were still being counted then, she has denied any wrongdoing and rejected calls for her to resign.

Copyright 2005 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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