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Philippines Massacre Suspect Pleads Not Guilty

National Burueau Investigation (NBI) agents escort Andal Ampatuan Jr (C), prime suspect in Philippines' worst political massacre to court in Manila, 5 Jan 2010

The prime suspect in the worst political massacre in the Philippines pleaded not guilty Tuesday when he appeared under heavy security in a special police court charged with multiple counts of murder.

Andal Ampatuan Jr. is accused of leading a brutal, deadly attack on a political rival's family, their staff and at least 30 journalists accompanying their convoy in Maguindanao province last November. The attack left 57 people dead.

The suspect belongs to the powerful Ampatuan clan that has ruled the province unchallenged for years, and was closely allied with President Gloria Arroyo.

The Ampatuans deny wrongdoing, and Ms. Arroyo has kicked the clan out of her coalition.

The hearing has been adjourned until next week.

The international community has expressed outrage over the murders and called on the Arroyo government to hold the killers accountable.

Manila quickly distanced itself from the Ampatuans after the massacre and imposed martial law in Maguindanao to allow troops to make arrests without warrants.

Ampatuan Jr.'s father, the former governor of Maguindanao, and other members of his powerful clan have also been detained and may face murder charges.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.