Philippines ex-leader Gloria Arroyo arrested for fraud

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Former Philippine President Gloria Arroyo at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila on 15 November 2011
Image caption,
Gloria Arroyo was stopped from leaving the country earlier this week

Former Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has been arrested on charges of election fraud.

Mrs Arroyo was arrested on her hospital bed in the capital Manila, accused of cheating to win a seat in the Senate for one of her supporters during the 2007 election.

Mrs Arroyo has been fighting a legal battle to be allowed to leave the country to receive medical treatment.

She denies any wrongdoing and her lawyer says the charges are fabricated.

Ferdinand Topacio said the government had filed charges with "indecent haste" in what he called an "emerging pattern of persecution".

A Philippine court had issued an arrest warrant after the Election Commission filed charges against her.

'Truth to prevail'

For months, speculation has swirled that Mrs Arroyo was about to be charged - either with vote fraud or with embezzlement.

With the threat of charges hanging over her, the government put her on a watch-list of people who have to ask for permission to leave the country.

She launched a legal bid arguing that the travel ban infringed her constitutional right to be regarded as innocent until proven guilty.

Twice this week the Supreme Court, which is dominated by her appointees, has ruled in her favour.

At one stage she even travelled to the airport, where she was photographed in a wheelchair with a neck-brace. She says she has a rare bone disease and needs specialist treatment.

But twice the government has foiled her attempts to leave the country.

On Friday, the lower court's decision to issue an arrest warrant appears to have brought the first phase of the saga to an end.

Court officials insisted she could not leave the country now that the warrant had been issued.

"Hospital arrest is possible. The arresting officers will look at her health if that is needed," said court official Joel Pelicano.

Election officials said Mrs Arroyo, who was president between 2001 and 2010, had ordered large-scale tampering with official returns in the 2007 Senate elections that cheated an opposition candidate out of victory.

The maximum sentence is life in prison.

"It is our desire that truth and accountability prevail and that the Filipino people be given the justice they truly deserve," said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.

Politics in the Philippines is notorious for corruption, vote-rigging and long-running bitter rivalries between clans and families.

Mrs Arroyo, herself the daughter of a former president, has been surrounded by corruption allegations for years, and survived several attempts to have her impeached while in office.

Her predecessor Joseph Estrada was jailed for corruption, and former authoritarian leader Ferdinand Marcos amassed a vast fortune by embezzling public money.