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    Philippine Congress votes to extend martial law in south

    MANILA — The Philippine Congress on Wednesday approved a request by the president to extend martial law in the country’s volatile south by a year due to continuing threats by Islamic State group-linked militants and communist insurgents.

    An overwhelming majority in the Senate and House of Representatives voted to extend martial rule, which expires at the end of the month, by another year in southern Mindanao region, scene of decades-long Muslim and communist rebellions in the largely Roman Catholic nation.

    President Rodrigo Duterte placed the southern region under martial law after hundreds of militants linked to the Islamic State group attacked the Islamic city of Marawi in May 2017, in the worst security crisis he has faced. Troops quelled the siege after five months, but officials say militants continue to recruit new fighters and plot bombings and other attacks.

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    ‘‘Now more than ever, we cannot afford to show our enemies a moment of weakness in our resolve to defeat them,’’ Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea told the joint session of Congress.

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    He warned that if Muslim militants and communist insurgents are allowed to regroup, ‘‘this government will not be able to function fully, basic services to the people will continuously be hindered, and the safety of the general public will remain to be under constant threat.’’

    Muslim militants, backed by foreign extremists, are fighting to turn the Philippines into a province of a so-called Muslim caliphate, while other armed groups aim to establish a separate Muslim homeland, Medialdea said.

    Opponents argue that extending martial law is unconstitutional because it is an extreme measure that can only be imposed when an actual rebellion against the government exists. They say the move could be a prelude for Duterte to declare martial law throughout the Philippines.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS