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Philippine vote official held on fraud charge

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Police in the Philippines have arrested a former top election official who has been charged with voting fraud along with former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Benjamin Abalos, the former head of the country's election authority, surrendered to a Manila regional court in suburban Pasay city on Tuesday and was placed under arrest, Samuel Turla, police superintendent, said.

Authorities plan to hold Abalos in a police detention facility, unlike Arroyo, who is being detained in a government hospital while she recovers from a bone ailment.

Abalos said he surrendered to underscore his innocence to charges by President Benigno Aquino III's administration that he played a role in rigging 2007 senatorial elections to ensure the victory of Arroyo's candidates in a Muslim autonomous region then governed by her political ally.

Aquino succeeded Arroyo last year after a landslide election victory due in part to his promise to rid the Southeast Asian nation of widespread corruption and crushing poverty.

Arroyo's popularity ratings plummeted to record lows after she was accused of vote-rigging and corruption during her nine turbulent years in power.

Arroyo, arrested last month at a private hospital, has denied any wrongdoing and accused her successor of using "black propaganda" to damage her image.

Police arrested Arroyo, 64, on November 18 at a private hospital. She was later moved to a public veterans' hospital amid calls for her to be treated like other crime suspects.

Aquino's allies have targeted a number of senior officials who they accuse of hampering Arroyo's prosecution.

On Monday, the Philippines' house of representatives on Monday impeached Renato Corona, the country's Arroyo-appointed top judge, over allegations of corruption and court decisions favouring the former president.

Aquino thanked representatives on Tuesday for impeaching Corona.

"We are now going through a process to stop the continued destruction by a wayward magistrate of the sacred institution that is the supreme court," Aquino said.

But Midas Marquez, a spokesperson for the court, said Corona's impeachment was "an assault on all the rights, power and privilege of the entire judiciary," which was being "forced to surrender its constitutionally mandated powers and functions to the whim and caprice of political machinations".


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