MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned Wednesday that he’ll be harsh in enforcing martial law in his country’s south as he abruptly left Moscow to deal with a crisis at home sparked by a Muslim extremist siege on a city, where militants burned buildings overnight and are feared to have taken hostages.
Duterte declared martial rule for 60 days in the entire southern Mindanao region, the restive third of the Philippine archipelago, Tuesday evening to try to crush Muslim extremists who have aligned themselves with the Islamic State group and occupied a hospital, jail and other buildings and battled troops in an audacious attack in Marawi City.
Martial law could be extended for a year depending on how long the problem could be quelled, Duterte said on board a plane en route to the Philippines.
“I said I would be harsh and I warned everybody not to force my hand into it,” Duterte said. “I have to do it to preserve the republic.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said troops raided the hideout of a top terrorist suspect in Marawi on Tuesday, sparking a gunbattle that prompted the militants to call for reinforcements from an allied group, the Maute. He said dozens of gunmen occupied city hall, a hospital and a jail and burned a Catholic church, a college and some houses in a bold attack that killed at least two soldiers and a police officer and wounded 12 others.
Several militants were killed in the fighting in Marawi city in Lanao del Sur province, about 830 kilometers (520 miles) south of Manila, but others continued to lay siege to the largely Muslim city of more than 200,000 people, officials said, adding that power was cut in the city in the chaos.
“The whole of Marawi city is blacked out, there is no light, and there are Maute snipers all around,” Lorenzana said in the news conference in Moscow, which was broadcast live in the Philippines.
Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said he informed his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, of…