Duterte to ramp up drug fight

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President Rodrigo Duterte gestures a clenched fist during a ceremony marking the return of the three Balangiga bells taken by the U.S. military as war booty 117 years ago, at Balangiga, Eastern Samar in central Philippines December 15, 2018. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned on Wednesday that his signature anti-narcotics campaign will be even harsher in the future, signalling no let-up in a bloody crackdown that has alarmed the international community.

Mr Duterte won the presidency by a wide margin in 2016 on promises of eradicating drugs and crime, and recent opinion polls indicate broad support for him and for the crackdown, despite widespread allegations of police cover-ups and summary killings resulting from weak intelligence.

Mr Duterte said the drugs problem was a national security issue.

“I will not allow my country to end up a failed state because of drugs,” he said in a speech.

He did not elaborate on how he would intensify a campaign that had already seen more than 5,000 people killed by police since he took office.

Human rights groups say many of those deaths were executions of people suspected of selling or using drugs, which police deny, insisting the killings were in self-defence.

Critics, including the Catholic Church, say the campaign has overwhelmingly targeted the urban poor and left drug kingpins largely untouched.

Asked by reporters later if the crackdown would be bloodier, Mr Duterte said: “I think so.”

A poll last week showed that about two thirds of Filipinos believed there were fewer drug users in their community now than last year. Most respondents said it was vital for police to arrest suspects alive and believed police agreed.

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