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Philippine Police Officer Charged in Connection with Election Violence Incident

Philippine police charge one of their own officers in a gruesome election incident in which three people were killed when the voting center they were in was set on fire. This is just one of dozens of politically motivated killings linked to the May 14 election for thousands of local and national representatives. Douglas Bakshian reports from Manila.

The incident occurred a day after the election in Batangas province. Police say men barged into a school used as a voting and counting center, fired guns, poured gasoline on the ballot boxes, and set fire to the building. A teacher, a poll watcher and a driver were killed.

Police have charged inspector Robert Marinda and seven others in the case. A witness identified the inspector, but he denies the allegation.

Violence is a feature of Philippine elections. Police last week said about 130 people had been killed in election-related violence, but now have lowered the figure to 41 confirmed politically motivated deaths.

They are still investigating dozens of other killings for election links.

There have been some discrepancies in the vote counting, which is done by hand. A big one occurred in the southern province of Maguindanao, where media reports say vote counters were ordered to fill in ballots with the names of pro-government Senate candidates.

The Philippine election watchdog group, NAMFREL, says strange things happened in the province. NAMFREL Secretary-General Eric Alvia says his monitors did not receive a single election return, or ER, from Maguindanao officials.

"It's a bit unusual because it happened province-wide," Alvia said. "And there are 336,000 voters in Maguindanao alone, why weren't they able to generate a single ER [election return)]and provide it to us?"

The national Election Commission suspended the vote count in Maguindanao and is awaiting a report from the provincial election supervisor Friday on the matter.

So far votes have been tallied in about 80 percent of the nation's precincts. Unofficial returns put the opposition ahead in eight of the 12 Senate seats nationally. President Gloria Arroyo's supporters are expected to win most of the House seats. Final results are not expected for at least another week.

President Arroyo has called the elections peaceful, free and fair. But a group called The International Observers Mission said it recorded voter coercion, vote buying and violence. A similar assessment came from the Asian Network for Free Elections, which observed voting in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.