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Asia-pacific

Arroyo declares 'state of emergency' after election violence

Video by Aurore Cloe DUPUIS

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2009-11-24

President Gloria Arroyo (pictured) declared a state of emergency in two southern provinces and in a nearby city on Tuesday, a day after scores were killed in election-related violence.

AFP - The Philippines declared a state of emergency in parts of the volatile south on Tuesday as anger spiralled over a savage political massacre that has left at least 46 people dead.

Police on Mindanao island pulled bullet-ridden bodies from shallow graves in this remote farming area after gunmen allegedly employed by a local political chief abducted then shot dead a group of rival politicians and journalists.

As thousands of troops fanned out across the ultra-tense Maguindanao province, President Gloria Arroyo declared a state of emergency for the area that would allow curfews and road checkpoints to be imposed.

"No effort will be spared to bring justice to the victims and hold the perpetrators accountable to the full limit of the law," Arroyo said on national television.

National police spokesman Chief Superintendent Leodardo Espina told reporters in Manila that 24 bodies had been recovered on Tuesday, on top of 22 that had been found on Monday.

Regional police commander Chief Superintendent Josefino Cataluna described a grisly search operation along an unpaved road in the isolated rural village of Saniag, saying 17 bodies had been pulled from just one grave.

"They were piled on top of each other. It looked as if they were buried hurriedly," he told reporters from the scene.

Political violence is common in the Philippines -- where more than one million unlicensed guns flow freely among a population of 92 million -- and dozens of people are murdered each election season.

But the scale of Monday's massacre, as well as the targeting of apparently unrelated people, has shocked and deeply angered the country.

Fourteen of the victims were women and some of them were journalists with no apparent links to the clan war, the police and military said when the death toll stood at 22.

"The government must without question bring those responsible for this massacre to justice," said Nonoy Espina, vice president of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, amid reports 12 journalists had died.

Authorities initially said a group of more than 40 people had been abducted by gunmen linked to Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan, the head of a Muslim clan who is part of Arroyo's ruling coalition.

The abducted group was made up of relatives and associates of Esmael Mangudadatu, the head of a rival Muslim clan in Maguindanao, as well as journalists, the military and police said.

The group was travelling in a convoy with Mangudadatu's wife as she went to an electoral office to register her husband to run for governor against Ampatuan's son in next year's national polls. She was among those killed.

Military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Romeo Brawner said the Ampatuans and their associates were believed to have been responsible for the massacre.

"The suspects are bodyguards of Ampatuan, local police aides and certain lawless elements," Brawner said.

Maguindanao's police chief was sacked and detained Tuesday "because of command responsibility" after his deputy and two other policemen were identified by witnesses as being present at the massacre, authorities said.

Sickening details of the killings were emerging Tuesday.

Police said many of the victims appeared to have been shot inside their vehicles while one was believed to have been cut down by gunfire while fleeing.

"All were shot at close range," said one of the investigators on the scene, Chief Superintendent Felicisimo Khu.

Asked about the allegations by some of the victims' relatives that the women were also raped, Khu said: "We cannot confirm that although all the women had their pants unzipped."

The Ampatuans are the longtime political rulers of Maguindanao, a mainly Muslim section of Mindanao which has been wracked by a Muslim separatist rebellion for decades.

The Ampatuan clan has been important in delivering votes to Arroyo's ruling Lakas Kampi CMD coalition in recent elections. The Ampatuan father is the provincial chair of the coalition in Maguindanao.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno vowed the government would be impartial as it pursued justice.

"I just want to assure everybody that we are doing everything necessary here, that there will be no sacred cows," he told ABS-CBN television.

Date created : 2009-11-24

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