Philippine army 'makes gains' in Marawi Islamist battle

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has appealed to Muslim separatists and Maoist-led rebels to join his government's fight against Islamic State-linked militants. But the recent violence has raised fears that extremism could be growing as smaller militant groups unify and align themselves with the Islamic State group.

Militants forced their way into the Marawi Cathedral and seized a Catholic priest, 10 worshippers and three church workers, according to the city's bishop, Edwin de la Pena.

This week 85 people have died in street-to-street battles between the Philippine army and terrorists in the southern third of the country. The militants' aim is supposedly greater autonomy or independence from the "Christian" government in Manila, including increased control over impoverished Mindanao's vast, mostly untapped natural resources. Such data was published on Sunday, may 28, the Ministry of defense of the Philippines.

Two thousand fearful civilians were trapped today inside a southern Philippine city where troops are battling Islamist militants, authorities said, as the death toll from nearly a week of fighting neared 100.

Reports on Monday said that 24 civilians were among the 105 killed in the fighting between the military and fighters of the Maute armed group.

Surrounded and fearing capture, Hapilon is thought to have issued an emergency call for reinforcements from members of the Maute group, a local Islamist militant organization that's pledged allegiance to ISIS, who poured into Marawi by the hundreds, setting fire to buildings, taking hostages and entering into running street-battles with government forces as they came.

"We don't want what's happening in Marawi to spill over in Iligan", Colonel Alex Aduca told a local radio station.

They said six soldiers perished in Thursday's fighting. Malaysians and Indonesians were among the rebels killed.

A surveillance drone circled the sky above Marawi City.

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More than 100 people have been killed, majority militants, according to the military, and most of the city's residents have fled.

"In what was intended as a joke, Duterte said the victim was "beautiful" and as mayor of Davao city where the riot took place, he should have been first in line". This brings the combined official death toll to at least 97.

Padilla said the troops continued the hard task of flushing out the Maute members house by house, street by street, and restore order in the city. The report said they witnessed the beheading of another hostage a day earlier.

As gunfire crackled in the background, Herrera says authorities believe Isnilon Hapilon, who is on Washington's list of most-wanted terrorists, is still in the city.

The army raided what it believed to be his hideout on Tuesday night in Marawi, but the operation quickly went wrong.

Duterte warned he may expand martial law nationwide, an unnerving development for many in the Philippines who lived through the rule of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The crisis there has grown increasingly dire as the militants fend off a military that has unleashed attack helicopters, armored vehicles and scores of soldiers.

According to National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL) head Ephraim Cortez, the Marawi onslaught does not "justify the shotgun declaration of martial law".

"As fighting continues in Marawi, our units are constrained to launch airstrikes to identified specific targets occupied by the Maute/ISIS terrorist group", Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. said in a statement.

Thousands of civilians have been fleeing the city of some 200,000 people. "And if it means many people dying, so be it". Plumes of black smoke rose in the distance and two air force helicopters could be seen flying over the city centre.

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