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Rival rallies draw crowds in Manila

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MANILA: Thousands of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's critics and supporters held rival rallies yesterday, taking emotional national debates over his deadly drug war and martial-law threats to the streets.

Police in battle gear were mustered to keep order as protesters held a series of rallies across Manila, using the 45th anniversary of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos imposing martial law to warn that Mr Duterte was equally violent and authoritarian.

"Our country is turning into a graveyard. People are getting killed every day and we bury the dead every day, just like in the time of Marcos," anti-Duterte protest leader Pedro Gonzales told AFP.

Manila police said about 5,000 people took part in the anti-Duterte protest near the presidential palace, where about 3,000 of his supporters also gathered.

The numbers of supporters reflected his popularity with many Filipinos, who see him as their best chance to quell crime and corruption.

The crackdown has triggered wider violence with thousands of other people being murdered in unexplained circumstances that rights groups partly attribute to vigilante death squads.

Mr Gonzales led about 300 people to the gate of the Philippine military headquarters.

Hoisting "No to Martial Law" and "Stop the Killings" banners, they burned a poster bearing a composite picture of Mr Duterte and Marcos, as about 70 unarmed policemen blocked their way.

The protesters were backed by the politicians and leaders of the Catholic Church, the country's main religion, signalling a rising opposition to Mr Duterte.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, denounced the drug killings at another mass yesterday, saying Catholics must "do more" than lighting candles for the dead and helping orphans.

"Stand up. To keep quiet in the face of evil is a sin," he said. - AFP