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By Gayatri Suroyo and Bernadette Christina Munthe

JAKARTA (Reuters) - The number of suspected drug dealers killed by Indonesian police has more than tripled so far this year from the whole of 2016, activists said on Wednesday, raising concerns the country may be headed towards a bloody Philippines-style war on narcotics.

At least 60 suspected dealers have died so far this year, up from last year's 18, Amnesty International said.

"While Indonesian authorities have a duty to respond to increasing rates of drug use in the country, shooting people on sight is never a solution," said Usman Hamid, Director of Amnesty International Indonesia.

The rights group added that all the deaths involved police allegedly acting in self-defence or because the suspects resisted arrest, but that no independent investigations had been conducted.

A spokesman for the national narcotics agency said officers had to prioritise their own safety and those of others if there was resistance from drug dealers.

"If firearms are used, it's because of the consideration of personal safety of the officers and others at the scene," Sulistiandriatmoko said in a text message.

He declined to comment on the number of deaths.

Authorities estimate there are around 6.4 million drug users in the country of 250 million people, and the use of crystal methamphetamine has soared in recent years.

President Joko Widodo has called for a "merciless" crackdown on the narcotics trade, which he believes has reached full-blown emergency status.

"We have firmly declared a war against drug dealers who are ruining the future of our younger generation," Widodo said on Wednesday in a state of the nation speech marking the 72nd anniversary of independence from Dutch colonialists.

Widodo has also told law enforcement officers to shoot drug traffickers if they resisted arrest.

The chief of anti-narcotics police, Budi Waseso, told Reuters last month that Indonesia would not replicate the bloody war on drugs in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte, though he praised its aims.

More than 8,000 people have died in the Philippines' war on drugs since Duterte took office last year, a third in raids and sting operations by police who say they acted in self-defence.

Duterte has refused to back down despite overwhelming international criticism.

(Additional reporting and writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Ed Davies and Nick Macfie)

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