MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine police used tear gas to disperse about 1,000 anti-U.S. protesters outside the U.S. Embassy in Manila on Wednesday, as television news footage showed a patrol van, which had come under attack, driving at demonstrators.
The rally came as President Rodrigo Duterte visits Beijing to strengthen relations with the world’s second-largest economy amid deteriorating ties with the Philippines’ former colonial power, the United States, sparked by his controversial war on illegal drugs.
Police made 29 arrests at the rally while at least 10 people were taken to hospital after being hit by the police van, Renato Reyes, secretary general of left-wing activist group Bayan (Nation), told reporters.
The protesters were calling for the removal of U.S. troops in the southern island of Mindanao.
“There was absolutely no justification (for the police violence),” Reyes said. “Even as the president avowed an independent foreign policy, Philippine police forces still act as running dogs of the U.S.”
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner expressed sympathy for those injured and wished them a quick recovery.
”The U.S. strongly supports democracy in the Philippines and supports the right to peaceful expression and demonstration. We call on all parties to engage in peaceful dialogue and exercise restraint,” he said.
In a series of conflicting statements, Duterte has insulted U.S. President Barack Obama and the U.S. ambassador in Manila for questioning his war on drugs, which has led to the deaths of 2,300 suspected users and pushers. He told Obama to “go to hell” and alluded to severing ties with Washington.
Then after weeks of anti-American rhetoric, Duterte said the Philippines would maintain its existing defense treaties and its military alliances.
The comments have left Americans and U.S. businesses in the Philippines jittery about their future.
Reporting by Ronn Bautista and Neil Jerome Morales in Manila and David Brunnstrom on Washington; Editing by Nick Macfie and Peter Cooney