Ampatuan clan linked to Philippine massacre

Not surprisingly Arroyo has turfed the Ampatuans out of her party rather than coming to their defence. The evidence against some members of the clan is too overwhelming to ignore. The charges are being filed in Cotabato City nearby but no doubt the trial will be moved to Manila ultimately for obvious security reasons. The clan has its own private militia. Not surprisingly this is an area where Muslim separatists are active. The solution to separatism it appears is clans with goon squads!

Allies of political clan linked to Philippine massacre rally

AFP – COTABATO, Philippines (AFP) – Allies of a political clan linked to the bloody massacre of at least 57 people last week rallied to their defence in the lawless southern Philippines on Sunday.

About a dozen mayors and other local officials from three provinces -- all allies of the powerful Ampatuan family -- met with regional governor Zaldy Ampatuan in his mansion while about 900 people, many of them children, rallied outside.

Zaldy Ampatuan, governor of a huge Muslim autonomous region, issued a statement vowing justice for the victims of the massacre, but also insisting on the innocence of his family.

He charged that they were being politically persecuted and that the government in Manila was preventing even more of his political allies from reaching him.

"The Ampatuan family is under siege," his statement read.

"This is an illegal persecution and our persecutors in their dire efforts to promote their sagging image are trying to ride... this incident," he said.

He did not identify his persecutors.

The governor said he had been on his way to Manila to meet President Gloria Arroyo herself when the incident happened and presented his plane ticket as proof.

The governor's brother, Andal Ampatuan Jnr, a local mayor, has been charged with the murder of 57 people, including political rivals, journalists, lawyers and eyewitnesses on Monday on the southern island of Mindanao.

The hundreds protesting outside Ampatuan's mansion chanted "Long live the Ampatuans" amid concerns that many officials linked to the clan may be suspended from their jobs while authorities probe the massacre.

"Don't remove the Ampatuans from their positions," said one placard while another protester held one saying "Ampatuans, not guilty".

Meanwhile in Manila, Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera said authorities had found a new witness who could link the Ampatuans to the massacre.

Devanadera said: "We have a witness who can prove that before this (massacre) happened, he was in a place where the Ampatuans were giving instructions," on how to carry it out.

The unnamed witness said he was present during the meeting of Ampatuans prior to the incident, heard orders directly from them, and even participated in the killings, the secretary added.

Devanadera said earlier that Ampatuan Jnr, who has already been detained in Manila, directly led the attack.

Devanadera also revealed the suspect's father, Andal Ampatuan Snr, the leader of the Ampatuan clan and governor of Maguindanao province, was among eight other members of the family under investigation and not allowed to leave the country.

Affidavits of alleged witnesses have linked Andal Ampatuan Snr and Zaldy Ampatuan to the killing.

Devanadera said that this means that they are now also being considered as suspects. Asked if other members of the Ampatuan family would be arrested, the secretary said "we are taking steps towards that."

Zaldy Ampatuan defended his jailed brother, saying that the law "presumes everyone to be innocent when charged with offences unless proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt."

Maguindanao is part of Mindanao island, where Muslim clans rule vast areas backed by their own private armies, often out of the national government's control.

Ampatuan Snr had been grooming his son to take over as governor of Maguindanao. The victims' relatives have alleged the Ampatuans organised the murders so that a rival candidate would not run for the post.

Ampatuan Snr has been an ally of President Arroyo for most of this decade but Arroyo has moved swiftly to cut ties with the clan.

The president's Lakas Kampi CMD coalition quickly expelled the Ampatuans from the party following the murders.

Political analysts describe the Southeast Asian nation of more than 7,000 islands as extremely corrupt with the central government forced to team up with rogue politicians to win votes.

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