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President Rodrigo Duterte poses with his signature fist bump with Australian Secret Intelligence Service Director General Nicolas Peter 'Nick' Warner who paid a courtesy call on the President at the Malacanan Palace, in Manila Philippines, August 22, 2017. Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS


SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia on Thursday defended its most senior intelligence chief after he was pictured posing with a clenched fist alongside Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, an image rights groups said undermines criticism of Duterte's war on drugs.

Australia's Director-General of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service Nick Warner met with Duterte in Manila on Tuesday, where he was photographed duplicating Duterte's clenched fist pose.

The president's clenched pose was used throughout his 2016 presidential campaign during which he promised to use deadly force to wipe out crime and drugs.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Warner was complying with a request from Duterte and the image did not weaken Canberra's criticism of Duterte's war on drugs.

Duterte's ferocious 14-month-old war on drugs has seen thousands of Filipinos killed, many in what critics say are suspicious circumstances.

"On both occasions that I've met with President Duterte I've raised the issue of human rights and the extrajudicial killings," Bishop told reporters in Perth in western Australia.

Amnesty International said Australia must do more to try and curtail the Philippine's firebrand leader.

"Australia is sending mixed messages amid an incredible spike in killings of the Philippines poorest people," said Michael Hayworth, human rights campaigner, Amnesty International.

"Australia must condemn in the strongest terms the killings by Philippines police of people without trial."

Since Duterte took office, more than 3,500 people have been killed in what the Philippine National Police (PNP) says were gunfights with drug suspects who had resisted arrests.

The PNP says some 2,000 more people were killed in other, drug-related violence that it denies involvement in. Human rights advocates, however, say the death toll could be far higher than police say.

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry)

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