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Philippines lifts martial law in 'massacre' province

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Philippines President Gloria Arroyo has lifted martial law in a southern province where 57 people were killed in political violence, aides have said.

Martial law was imposed in Maguindanao a week ago to quell what the government said was a rebellion by the Ampatuan clan, blamed by police for the deaths.

Members of a rival clan and journalists were among those killed on 23 November.

Separately, gunmen holding dozens of people hostage in the southern Philippines have agreed to free them.

A government spokesman said the gunmen had decided to surrender after the state said it would consider some of their demands, and would release the hostages at 0700 on Sunday (2300 GMT on Saturday).

The kidnappers, who belong to a gang of former government-armed militia, seized 75 people from a school on Thursday. More than a third have already been released.

Murder charges

In the past week, police and military personnel have carried out a major operation in Maguindanao against those suspected of involvement in the massacre last month.

Twenty-four people have been charged with rebellion, including several figures from the Ampatuan clan. Maguindanao's governor, Andal Ampatuan Sr, was among them.

His son, clan leader and local mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr, has been charged with multiple counts of murder.

Large quantities of weapons and ammunition were also seized in the operation.

Critics opposed the imposition of martial law on 4 December, saying the massing of armed men in Maguindanao did not constitute sufficient grounds for the measure.

Soldiers in the Philippines, 6 Dec
Security forces have carried out many arrests and raids in the past week

A special session in the Philippines Congress has been debating the declaration of martial law over the past four days and the government has faced stiff questioning.

Now it says it has achieved its objectives but the number of suspects it previously said it was seeking and the number arrested do not seem to add up, says the BBC's Rachel Harvey in Bangkok.

The government was criticised initially for reacting too slowly to the massacre and then came under fire for over-reacting when it imposed martial law, our correspondent adds.

It was the first time martial law had been used in the country since the fall of autocrat Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

Clan leader Esmael Mangudadatu, whose relatives were among those killed, has alleged the massacre was carried out to prevent him running against the younger Ampatuan for governor of Maguindanao next year.

Thirty journalists who were accompanying Mr Mangudadatu's supporters as they went to file his candidacy for 2010 were also murdered.



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SEE ALSO
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Philippine hostage talks continue
11 Dec 09 |  Asia-Pacific
Charges over Philippines massacre
09 Dec 09 |  Asia-Pacific
Philippines seeks clan suspects
09 Dec 09 |  Asia-Pacific
Philippine massacre 'simply beyond words'
02 Dec 09 |  Asia-Pacific
Arroyo legacy at risk in massacre
27 Nov 09 |  Asia-Pacific



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