Rodrigo Duterte calls journalists ‘spies’ drawing laughs from Donald Trump as the pair avoid human rights questions

Filipino leader has been criticised over his violent crackdown on the drug trade

Jeff Farrell
Monday 13 November 2017 13:04
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Mr Trump greets Mr Duterte during the ASEAN conference in Manila
Mr Trump greets Mr Duterte during the ASEAN conference in Manila

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte drew laughs from Donald Trump when he jokingly called a group of journalists “spies” after they tried to raise the issue of human rights in his country.

The US president met his counterpart ahead of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) conference which is being held in the country's capital Manila, amid a bloody drug war in the country.

Thousands have been killed in a violent crackdown on the illicit trade initiated by Mr Duterte, who has in the past told police that they were "free to kill idiots” if they resist arrest.

Campaigners had been hoping Mr Trump would press Mr Duterte over human rights issues. But when reporters shouted questions about the issue at the start of the summit he failed to answer.

Speaking after talks with his opposite number ahead of the conference, he said: “We’ve had a great relationship."

He added: "This has been very successful.”

Commenting on the sunny weather in Manila, he said: “I’ve really enjoyed being here.”

As reporters pushed on the issue, Mr Duterte stepped in.

Protesters burn Donald Trump effigy in the Philippines

“Whoa, whoa. This is not a press statement. This is the bilateral meeting," he said.

He then drew a chuckle from Mr Trump when he called the reporters “spies”, in an apparent joke.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the 40-minute meeting between the US president and his counterpart focused on Isis, illegal drugs and trade.

She added that human rights briefly came up in the context of the Philippines' fight against illegal drugs, but did not say if Mr Trump was critical of the violent crackdown led by Mr Duterte.

A spokesman for the Philippine president, however, said that the pair had not discussed the issue.

He said: "There was no mention of human rights. There was no mention of extralegal killings. There was only a rather lengthy discussion of the Philippine war on drugs with President Duterte doing most of the explaining."

The Filipino leader has come under fire over the bloody war on drugs in the country that has targeted mostly users and dealers.

At least 3,000 people have been killed in the violent crackdown, according to government figures, while human rights groups have put the number closer to 9,000.

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