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Duterte to fly back to Manila with Mindanao under martial law

Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano answers questions from the media during a news conference following the flag-raising ceremony Monday, May 22, 2017 in suburban Pasay city, south of Manila, Philippines. Cayetano has sought to downplay President Rodrigo Duterte's pronouncement that Chinese President Xi Jinping told him China would go to war with Manila if it insists on drilling for oil in the disputed South China Sea, saying they were not threatening each other but talking about preventing conflict. AP/Bullit Marquez

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte’s official visit to Russia will be cut short following his declaration of martial law in Mindanao after clashes between government forces and a a group inspired by the so-called Islamic State (IS or ISIS) left three people dead and several others injured.

In a press briefing on Tuesday night in Moscow, Russia where Duterte is on a four-day official visit, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said that the president would not be staying on until the 24th and 25th of May, effectively cutting his trip there by two days.

Cayetano, who was recently appointed as chief of the Department of Foreign Affairs, said that Russian government officials understood the situation and the need for Duterte to fly back to Manila as soon as possible to oversee government operations against fighters of the Maute Group, a local terrorist organization allying itself with the so-called IS.

The DFA secretary said that he had spoken with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, about the Philippine government’s decision. Cayetano said that the agreements scheduled to be signed would still go through and that he would stay behind to attend to these.

“I have spoken to my counterpart here in Moscow and have explained the situation, and they understand that the security of the Filipino people especially in Marawi and the whole of Mindanao is a priority. They understand that the presence of President Duterte is essential in the Philippines,” Cayetano said.

On Tuesday, government forces clashed with Maute fighters in Marawi City. The fighting left two policemen and a soldier dead and injured several others, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

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The insurgents were able to take control of one government hospital in Marawi as the mayor called on government authorities to dispatch security reinforcements to the besieged Mindanao city.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines said in a statement that it conducted a “surgical operation” following reports that Isnilon Hapilon and some Abu Sayyaf members were in Marawi City.

Duterte has warned crime and terrorist groups in Mindanao in the past against forcing his hand to declare martial law.

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