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Trump praises his 'great relationship' with Philippines' Duterte, sidesteps questions about human rights

Noah Bierman, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

After 11 days of honor guards, dancing children, palace banquets, deference from Asian leaders and an audience with an emperor, President Donald Trump on Monday seemed determined not to spoil the pomp and ceremony with a sticky dispute over human rights.

So as he met in Manila with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, a leader accused of overseeing a broad crackdown on suspected drug dealers that has left thousands of people dead without charges or trials, Trump ignored reporters' questions about human rights and instead focused on the hospitality.

"We've had a great relationship," Trump said as he and Duterte briefly met with reporters. Duterte, host of this year's summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, dismissed the reporters as "spies" and didn't conceal his displeasure at their presence as he had them quickly hustled out.

Trump, in his later address at the summit, praised Duterte in an aside: "Rodrigo, I would like to commend you on your success as ASEAN chair at this critical moment in time, and in the association's history."

"And the show last night, the talent at that show -- I assume mostly from the Philippines -- was fantastic, he continued. "And you were fantastic."

The list of organizations condemning Duterte's human rights violations is long and includes the U.S. Congress, the European Union, the United Nations and the global group Human Rights Watch.

 

Trump joked with Duterte and enthused about the Philippines' great weather as their one-on-one meeting began Monday morning. He laughed when Duterte called reporters "spies" and had them ushered out of the room.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump briefly discussed human rights with Duterte in a conversation that focused on Islamic State, illegal drugs and trade. But Philippine government spokesperson Harry Roque denied that human rights came up at all.

"No, that issue was not raised," Roque said. "However, the president (Duterte) explained at length his war on drugs. President Trump seemed to be appreciative.

"From the body language of the U.S. president, he seemed to be in agreement," Roque added.

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