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Philippine Police Kill 13 Drug Suspects in Daylong Raids

FILE - President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during the 121st anniversary celebration of the Philippine Army in Taguig city, east of Manila, Philippines, March 20, 2018.

Philippine police said they killed 13 drug suspects and arrested more than 100 suspected dealers and criminals in 24 hours of raids in a province with a record of bloody crackdowns.

The suspects were killed in gunbattles with police in a city and eight towns in Bulacan province just north of Manila, said police Senior Superintendent Romeo Caramat Jr. More than 70 raids were launched in Bulacan on Wednesday, leading to the arrests of 109 people, including 92 suspected drug dealers and users, he said.

The latest violence raises the death toll in President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-drug crackdown to 4,239 since it was launched in July 2016, with more than 131,500 others arrested. Governments led by the United States and the EU have expressed alarm and called on the Philippines to take steps to halt the bloodshed.

Human rights groups have cited much higher death tolls and called for an independent investigation, including by the United Nations.

Duterte has lashed out at critics and declared last week that the Philippines was backing out of the International Criminal Court, where he's facing a possible complaint for the thousands of killings.

In the raids, police seized more than 250 small packets of methamphetamine, marijuana and 19 firearms, including a rifle and a shotgun, police said. A similar crackdown in the province in August left 32 alleged drug offenders dead in the highest single-day toll in the nearly two years of the crackdown.

Last month, Bulacan police killed 10 drug suspects in a 24-hour sweep.

"These operations are part of our stepped-up campaign against drugs and all other forms of criminality in the province," Caramat said. "Unfortunately, 13 of the suspects were killed when our officers fired in self-defense."'

In one of the firefights in San Jose del Monte city, three motorcycle-riding drug dealers were killed in a clash when they sensed that a drug buyer was an officer, Caramat said. Backup officers returned fire and killed the three but a fourth suspect escaped, Caramat said, adding three pistols were taken from the three.

Duterte has denied ordering police to carry out extrajudicial killings but has repeatedly threatened suspected drug lords and dealers with death in public speeches. He cites police casualties — at least 91 dead and 227 wounded — as proof of the danger law enforcers face.

Human rights groups, however, have said their investigations showed officers gunned down arrested suspects then set up crime scenes to make it appear the unarmed suspects opened fire first.