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47 arrested after Philippine gun ban: police

MANILA, Jan 11 (AFP) - Policemen and soldiers were among 47 people arrested for illegally carrying guns in the Philippines on the first day of a firearms ban imposed ahead of national elections, authorities said Monday.

National police deputy director general Jefferson Soriano said tens of thousands of officers had been deployed to man 3,500 checkpoints set up across the country on Sunday to enforce the ban on the unauthorised carrying of weapons.

The ban is introduced ahead of every Philippine election, but it has taken on more significance in recent months following a massacre of 57 people and the separate killings of at least five other people in poll-linked violence.

Soriano said five policemen and three soldiers were among the 47 people arrested on Sunday when the ban was introduced.

In an interview with ABS-CBN television, Soriano said soldiers and policemen who are not on active duty were subject to the ban.

The officers and soldiers arrested on Sunday were not on duty, he said.

Under the terms of the ban, civilians with regular permits to carry guns are also not allowed to take their weapons out of their homes.

In addition, politicians are also not allowed to have armed bodyguards, a common practice normally.

Authorities say there are more than one million unlicensed firearms in the Philippines, and dozens of people are killed each election season when politicians seek to eliminate rivals or critics.

Fuelling the violence are the "private armies" controlled by so-called political warlords.

It was one such militia that allegedly carried out the November 23 massacre of 57 people in the southern Maguindanao province.

About 100 gunmen controlled by a local mayor, Andal Ampatuan Jnr, allegedly abducted relatives of a rival politician, plus a group of journalists travelling with them to an election office, then murdered them.

The massacre allegedly took place to stop Ampatuan's rival from running against him for the post of Maguindanao governor in the May national elections.

Since then, at least five candidates in the elections -- when positions ranging from the president to local councillor will be up for grabs -- have been shot dead in separate attacks.

The firearms ban will last until June 9. Those caught illegally carrying weapons can be jailed for up to six years, although not everyone arrested each time the ban is introduced goes to prison.

MySinchew 2010.01.11


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