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Philippine massacre toll rises to 46

The death toll from an attack on a group of journalists and politicians in the southern Philippines has risen to 46, after more bodies were found.

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“We have recovered a total of 46 bodies,” National Police spokesman Chief Superintendent Leodardo Espina told reporters in Manila.

He said 24 bodies had been found on Tuesday, on top of the 22 recovered shortly after Monday’s massacre in the southern province of Maguindanao.

“17 bodies were pulled from one grave,” National Police chief Jesus Verzosa said, speaking from the scene of the massacre.

“They were piled on top of each other. It looked as if they were buried hurriedly,” said Chief Superintendent Josefino Cataluna, the regional police commander.

State of emergency declared

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo on Tuesday placed the country’s southern region under a state of emergency in the wake of the deadly attack.

“There is an urgent need to prevent and suppress the occurrence of several other incidents of lawless violence,” Arroyo said in the proclamation, according to ppokesman Cerge Remonde.

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police are hereby ordered to undertake such measures as allowed by the constitution and by law to prevent and suppress all incidents of lawless violence in the aforesaid areas.”

The state of emergency authorises the military to impose curfews, set up checkpoints and undertake searches of homes.

Arroyo’s proclamation covers the province of Maguindanao and two other neighbouring areas, with a combined population of 1.54 million people.

Bullet-riddled bodies unearthed

The crisis began on Monday when armed men allegedly linked to Andal Ampatuan, the political kingpin in the area, seized more than 40 followers of a rival politician and journalists.

The bullet-riddled bodies of at least 22 among the group were later found in the area. Police are continuing to dig up newly dug graves on Tuesday in search of the others still missing.

Relatives of the some of the victims said the Ampatuan clan organised the massacre to stop a rival politician from filing his nomination to run as governor in next year’s national elections.

The group had been part of a convoy travelling to an election office in which the rival candidate was going to be nominated for governor.

Fourteen of the people confirmed killed were women. Some of those killed were also reporters who had been accompanying the convoy to report on the attempted nomination.

The military said it suspected the Ampatuans were behind the massacre, but emphasised an investigation was under way.