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Associated Press

CLARK FIELD, Philippines - Reversing herself, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said Saturday she will run in May 2004 elections, promising Filipinos "a strong republic, unity, justice and peace" through economic and political reforms.

Speculation over whether Arroyo, who assumed office after the resignation of her predecessor, would seek a regular six-year term has created perceptions of political instability, hurting the Philippine economy and plunging the peso to an all-time low as some investors turned away from an unstable market.

"I will run for president in May 2004. I have deferred my retirement," Arroyo told a rally of about 20,000 supporters, mostly senior citizens, at the former U.S. Clark Air Base in her home province of Pampanga, about 50 miles north of Manila.

"I have gained the experience necessary to understand what we need to do to change the society … for a future marked with a prosperous economy," Arroyo said. "We must give ourselves a fresh start."

Under the constitution, presidents are allowed to serve only one term. But Arroyo can seek her own six-year term, since she took over halfway through former President Joseph Estrada's stint in January 2001 as his separately elected vice president.

Estrada was forced to resign amid massive anti-corruption protests on Jan. 20, 2001, and since then has been on trial for plunder, a capital offense.

Arroyo, a 56-year-old U.S.-educated economist and a staunch U.S. ally in the war on terror, surprised the nation when she announced on Dec. 30 she would not run, saying she wanted to focus her remaining time in office on reforms and solving the country's problems without worrying about votes.

"I changed my mind because there is a higher cause to change society in a way that it flourishes our future," she said Saturday.

Arroyo cited her administration's accomplishments in fighting drug and crime syndicates, poverty and high-level graft as well as seeking peace with the country's Muslim and communist rebels.

Arroyo is preparing for a visit by President Bush on Oct. 18, which will be their second meeting this year following her trip to Washington in April.

The daughter of late President Diosdado Macapagal, Arroyo has taken a beating in recent surveys, with one independent poll showing her popularity plunging to its lowest level in September since she came to office.

Arroyo also has been dogged by corruption charges against her husband, lawyer Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo, reported continuing restiveness in the military and what she called intense politicking by the opposition.

In July, she faced down a failed mutiny by about 300 soldiers who accused her government and the military of corruption. She said the short-lived uprising was part of a larger coup conspiracy.

Emerging as her main contenders are former education secretary and ex-senator Raul Roco and Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who accused Arroyo's husband of corruption and money laundering and prompted a nationally televised Senate investigation.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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