Philippine massacre suspect denies murder charges

The prime suspect in the massacre of 57 people in the southern Philippines last year pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of murder.

Philippine massacre suspect denies murder charges

The prime suspect in the massacre of 57 people in the southern Philippines last year pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to multiple counts of murder.

The case against Andal Ampatuan Jnr, a local mayor and a leader of a powerful clan, has thrown the spotlight on the nation's corruption-plagued political and justice systems.

More than 30 heavily-armed police escorts took Ampatuan to a special court inside the national police headquarters for his arraignment and a bail hearing, the first steps in judicial proceedings that many fear could drag on for years.

"Not guilty," Ampatuan Jnr's lawyer Sigfrid Fortun told the court when asked to enter a plea as his client stood beside him.

The judge adjourned the hearing until January 13 after the prosecution asked to present over a dozen witnesses to block Ampatuan's application for bail.

Ampatuan Jnr allegedly led 100 of his men in stopping a convoy carrying supporters of a political rival and journalists in the southern province of Maguindanao on November 23.

The victims were systematically murdered and buried in shallow pits or dumped in grasslands near a highway in Maguindanao, where Amapatuan Jnr's father and namesake was governor.

Those killed in the worst political murders in the Philippines included pregnant women and about 30 journalists.

Ampatuan Jr pleaded not guilty to 41 counts of murder on Tuesday, but is expected to be charged with 57 counts when final death certificates are processed.

Weeks after the massacre, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo imposed martial law in Maguindanao province to disband the Ampatuan's private army and arrest the clan's patriarch, his brother and three sons, suspected to have had a hand in the killings.

All five are currently under military and police custody on the southern Mindanao island.

The court barred live news coverage of the proceedings.

Anti-riot police and fire trucks were also posted at the police camp's three main gates.

"We hope for a speedy trial and swift justice for the death of my husband," said Myrna Reblando, wife of one of 30 journalists killed in the massacre.



Agencies





Last Mod: 05 Ocak 2010, 11:58
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