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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during a National Heroes Day commemoration at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes' Cemetery) in Taguig city, Metro Manila in the Philippines August 29, 2016. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

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MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine police, heavily criticised by rights groups for killing hundreds of drug dealers and users, are using a comedy puppet of Rodrigo Duterte to get the president's war on drugs message across to Manila school children.

The Philippine National Police began the show, which also features a puppet of police chief Ronald dela Rosa, in Manila schools this month, the latest step in the anti-drug drive of Duterte, nicknamed "the Punisher", who won the presidency in May based on a platform of wiping out narcotics.

"I hate drugs, don't do drugs because you are the hope of the country," the Duterte puppet told children at an impoverished community near a large landfill in Manila.

Police have also employed a smiling, dancing mascot that looks like dela Rosa to spread the message at other youth events in the Filipino capital, with a comic book also commissioned to encourage children to stay away from drugs.

"This is part of our programme to convince and maintain the safety of our people, especially those who have not been subjected to vices," Remigio Sedanto, the police community relations chief, said of the drive.

More than 1,900 people have been killed, according to police figures, in the anti-drug drive since Duterte came to power with the president saying there would be no let up in the fight during a National Heroes Day speech on Monday.

Students from Manila theatre group U.P. Repertory are also using theatre to show their objection to Duterte's approach by re-enacting the death of a local college student, who they said was gunned down by police in one of their drug operations.

Participants were blindfolded and seated inside a dimply lit room to simulate what happens inside a drug den, while actors hit items on the ground to mimic gunshots.

"We want to show what is really happening to the youth, to those who are affected by these killings under the new president," said Gio Potes, the show's head writer.

The United States, a close ally of the Philippines, said last week it was "deeply concerned" about the reports of extra-judicial drug killings and it urged Duterte's government to ensure that law-enforcement efforts "comply with its human rights obligation".

(Reporting by Peter Blaza and Ronn Bautista; Writing by Patrick Johnston; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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