Philippine police arrest 18 at start of gun ban

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MANILA, Philippines (AP) — About 50,000 Philippine policemen began enforcing a five-month ban on carrying guns in public Sunday in hopes of avoiding bloodshed in the buildup to May elections, arresting 18 violators at checkpoints across the country.

The Philippines is a lively democracy and elections are often marred by violence and fraud. In the 2007 local and congressional elections, 108 people were killed in election-related violence, including 15 candidates, national police spokesman Chief Supt. Leonardo Espina said Sunday.

Last week National Police Chief Jesus Verzosa said 558 of the country’s 1,634 cities and municipalities have been identified as areas of concern and will get added attention from security forces ahead of the national and local polls, which include a vote for president.

In the country’s worst political violence 57 people on the way to register a candidate for the May 10 election were massacred last November in the country’s volatile south, allegedly by a rival clan of the one registering the candidate.

Gun bans are common practice before elections, but this year police will not issue any exemptions to gun owners due to security concerns sparked by that massacre.

Three policemen, a navy enlisted man, and a jail warden were among those arrested Sunday. They carried their firearms outside their homes and stations without permits, or while they were off-duty and in civilian clothes, Espina said.

“The main tool in committing crimes during elections are guns,” Espina said. “Take it out and you minimize the violence.”

Under the ban ordered by the Commission on Elections, carrying firearms, explosives and other weapons in public will be prohibited from Sunday until June 9. Only policemen and soldiers, who are on duty and in uniform, can bear arms during the ban.

Violators face up to six years imprisonment and dismissal from work in the case of government employees. Foreigners can be jailed or deported.