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Philippines celebrates as Pacquiao wins seventh title

MANILA (Reuters) - Filipinos erupted in wild cheers and thunderous applause in cinemas, bars, restaurants and crowded neighbourhoods across the country on Sunday after Manny Pacquiao beat Miguel Cotto to win his seventh world title.

Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines (R) is treated in his corner between rounds during his WBO welterweight title fight against Miguel Cotto of Puerto Rico at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 14, 2009. Filipino trainer Buboy Fernandez is at left. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

Pacquiao, nicknamed “Pacman”, snatched the World Boxing Organisation welterweight crown from the Puerto Rican after the referee stopped the title fight in Las Vegas in the 12th and final round.

The victory enhanced Pacquiao’s reputation as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world and earned him a seventh title in an unprecedented seventh weight class.

On the other side of the world, millions of Filipinos watched the fight live on satellite television, in cinemas and on giant screens in poor neighbourhoods where Pacquiao is revered.

“He’s the greatest fighter in boxing history,” engineer Hermogenes Gutierrez, who watched the bout at a restaurant with his family, told Reuters. “He has made all Filipinos proud. He’s our national hero.”

People inside Manila’s cinemas stood, jumped and burst into thunderous applause after the referee stopped the fight as Pacquiao rained punches on the bloodied Cotto.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who is attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Singapore, sent her congratulations to Pacquiao, saying his “unprecedented victory” would serve as an inspiration to Filipino youth.

“I hope we can all learn from his example so that, together, we can also move forward as a nation,” Arroyo said in a statement read by her spokesman, Cerge Remonde.

STANDSTILL

Life ground to a standstill in the country while the fight was broadcast. A huge number of the country’s 92 million people are glued to television and radio every time he climbs into the ring.

Officials at the country’s main power company said electricity consumption rose nearly 13 percent over normal weekend demand during the bout.

Traffic in the capital Manila’s streets was light as traders, taxi drivers and even petty criminals took time to watch Pacquiao fight against Cotto, who was the underdog.

“I flew home from Bangkok last night just to watch this fight,” Ricardo Reyes, an electronics engineer, told Reuters before the start of the fight while dining at a sports bar in Manila’s business district.

“I don’t want to miss this historic bout. I’ll fly back to Bangkok tonight because I have to report to work tomorrow.”

At many Sunday masses across the Roman Catholic country, Filipinos prayed for Pacquiao’s victory.

“I went to church early today for Manny’s victory,” said Angelo delos Santos, a 51-year-old taxi driver.

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton forecast that Pacquiao would prevail over Cotto.

“Is there any doubt about it?” she told a nationwide televised forum with students in Manila.

Security forces were on alert in Manila on Sunday and police officers made the rounds in shopping malls and crowded neighbourhoods.

“Historically, we register near zero crime during Pacquiao’s actual match but we sent out patrols to make sure no criminals will take advantage of the situation,” Leonardo Espina, national police spokesman, said.

Giant screens were put up in gymnasiums and parks across the country by local politicians to win support from poor voters while lawmakers hurriedly approved the government’s budget bill last week as many planned to fly to Las Vegas for the fight.

Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Peter Rutherford

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