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Duterte softens on US troop presence, curses EU on drug war

Wednesday, September 21, 2016 - 15:41

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In a pair of passionate speeches, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte first acknowledged that his country needed American troops in the South China Sea, then assailed the US and the European Union over their criticism of his anti-drug war.

[MANILA] In a pair of passionate speeches, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte first acknowledged that his country needed American troops in the South China Sea, then assailed the US and the European Union over their criticism of his anti-drug war.

A week after he called for the end of joint patrols with American troops in the South China Sea and the withdrawal of US forces from Mindanao, Mr Duterte on Tuesday said that he only wanted the soldiers out to ensure the success of peace talks with Muslim rebels.

"I said there will be some time in the future when I'll ask the special forces to leave," Mr Duterte said in a speech to soldiers stationed near his home in Davao.

"I never said, 'Go out of the Philippines.' For after all, we need them in China Sea," he added.

Mr Duterte also maintained that the Philippines would not go to war with China over territories in the water, saying it will only result in a "massacre".

The US military's alliance with the Philippines has for decades been a bedrock of American influence in the region, where tensions run high over China's claims to more than 80 per cent of the South China Sea.

Shortly after Mr Duterte took office in late June, an international arbitration panel ruled that China's claims had no legal basis - a win for the Philippines in a case brought by Mr Duterte's predecessor.

While Mr Duterte has said he'll respect the alliance he's repeatedly stressed the need for an "independent foreign policy" and questioned America's willingness to intervene if China were to seize territory in the South China Sea.

Later in the evening, in an obscenity laced address to local leaders in Davao, Mr Duterte rejected outside criticism of his calls for extrajudicial action to stamp out illegal drug use, which has seen more than 3,000 people killed in less than three months.

"I've read the European Union's condemnation against me. I tell them, f--- you. You're doing it in atonement for your sins," Mr Duterte said, referring to recent calls for an end to the extrajudicial killings by the European Parliament and a resolution directing its 28 member countries represented in Manila to monitor human rights abuses in the Philippines.

He spoke in a mixture of languages and switched to English for the expletive.

"They are strict now because there's guilt," Mr Duterte said.

"Who did I kill, assuming that it's true? 1,700. Who are they? Criminals. You call that genocide? How many have they killed?'' Mr Duterte added, before flashing a middle finger that was met by applause from the audience.

Mr Duterte also accused the US of hypocrisy over its criticism of the drug war, claiming that America had "started the gross violations of human rights in this country" during clashes with the indigenous Moro people in 1906.

While running for office Mr Duterte promised a ruthless campaign that would suppress illegal drugs within six months.

Mr Duterte has lashed out at any criticism of his campaign, unleashing a tired that prompted US President Barack Obama to cancel a meeting with him planned on the sidelines of an Asian leaders summit earlier this month.

BLOOMBERG

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