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Filipino theatre artists perform a "La Pieta" scene during a short musical about the killings under the Philippine government's anti-drug campaign, in Pandacan city, metro Manila, Philippines April 2, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

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By Ronn Bautista and Neil Jerome Morales

MANILA (Reuters) - A Philippine youth theatre club staged a musical at a Manila park on Sunday, challenging President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs.

The 20-minute show features a casket salesman whose funeral parlour is doing brisk business as corpses pile up.

But the salesman and his friends end up as statistics, falling to vigilante-style killings that have gripped the Southeast Asian nation and alarmed the international community.

"The play talks about the problem in the community with the war on drugs and the irony of it, that a few earn money amid this war and all the killings," artistic director Jessie Villabrille told Reuters.

More than 8,000 suspected drug addicts and dealers have been killed since Duterte took office on June 30, some in police operations but many others in mysterious circumstances.

The authorities vehemently deny wrongdoing and blame vigilantes and drug gangs for the killings.

Criticism of the war on drugs does not sit with Duterte or his supporters. The brash leader chastised the United Nations and former U.S. president Barack Obama numerous times or criticising his anti-drugs programme.

Duterte won the presidency by a wide margin on the promise of wiping out drugs and criminality.

The theatre group plans to take the musical to schools and stage a longer version next month.

(Reporting by Ronn Bautista; Writing by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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