11/26/2009, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Massacre in Maguindanao: number one suspect in Manila for interrogation

Andalo Ampatuan Jr. is under interrogation, but no confirmation of detention pending trial. He denies being the instigator of the massacre, which killed 57 people. Manila declares a day of national mourning and expels Ampatuan from the coalition government.

Manila (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Philippine authorities have arrested Andalo Ampatuan Jr., mayor of Datu Unsay and son of the governor of Maguindanao, the number one suspect for the massacre of November 23. He surrendered without resistance and left for Manila for interrogation. In his first official statement Ampatuan -  a political ally of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo - denied being the instigator of the attack on the Mangudadatu clan, which killed 57 people.

Ronaldo Puno, the interior minister, confirmed that Andalo Ampatuan Jr. (pictured) was transported by helicopter from the town to a nearby airport, where he embarked on a direct flight to Manila, for questioning. Shortly before departure, the mayor of Datu Unsay released his first public statement on the matter, stressing that he had not orchestrated the massacre.  

"There is no truth in this," Ampatuan told reporters who besieged General Santos airport in the province of South Cotabato. Government authorities have not clarified the position of the man and, at the moment, there is no confirmation on a possible measure of remand in custody.

The updated death toll of the massacre is 57 dead. The victims belonged to the clan of Ishmael "Toto" Mangudadatu, vice-mayor of Buluan and candidate for governor of Maguindanao. The group, on its way to the offices of Provincial Election Commission Aguakate Shariff, was attacked by over 100 armed men. The wife and two sisters of Mangudadatu, other supporters and journalists were killed in the attack. Intelligence sources confirm that some of the victims were shot repeatedly with a gun, some had their throats cut and others - it seems – were buried alive.  

The brutality of the attack has sparked outrage and horror in the country. The government has declared a day of national mourning and promised that justice will be done. Some army units have taken part in a series of raids in the theatre of bloodshed, arresting 193 members of paramilitary militias in the pay of Ampatuan.

Yesterday, the ruling party Lakas-Kampi voted for the expulsion of Ampatuan. Officials in Manila have also put all the Ampatuan police officers under investigation, - the town takes its name from the clan that controls the area - on suspicion of "involvement" in the massacre.

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