Tens of thousands in Philippine sect's walk for typhoon aid

MANILA - Tens of thousands of members of a Philippine sect took to the streets in Manila on Saturday in a charity walk to raise funds for survivors of the country's deadliest typhoon.

Members of the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ) poured into the capital's seaside avenue in response to the politically influential sect's appeal to help compatriots caught up by Super Typhoon Haiyan's onslaught.

All those taking part bought special white t-shirts, costing 250 pesos (S$7) to wear during the march, with all proceed from sales of the garment being donated to help those in need, pensioner Laodiseo Santos, 78, told AFP.

"I paid for this T-shirt to help our countrymen rebuild their homes...Some of our wealthier members purchased in bulk," he said.

The retired cashier, his five grown-up sons and daughters as well as several grandchildren completed a three-kilometre (1.8-mile) walk on Roxas Boulevard in late morning.

Police estimated the crowd at about 200,000, though the figure could not be independently confirmed.

Haiyan tore across 171 towns and cities in the central islands on November 8 last year, killing at least 6,200 people and leaving nearly 2,000 others missing according to an official count.

The typhoon, one of the strongest ever to hit land, also left more than four million people homeless.

Many of them are still living in tents and other temporary shelters supplied by an international humanitarian effort led by the United Nations.

The district remained fenced off to traffic at noon, with more participants expected to join in the afternoon, an AFP photographer on the scene said.

"This is an organised march, and there have been no untoward incidents," said Chief Inspector Alejandro Yanquiling, a senior Manila police officer who oversaw security for the event.

The Iglesia, a Filipino Christian sect, has at least three million members in the largely Catholic nation of 100 million.

The conservative sect is courted by politicians because its members tend to vote as a block.