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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte arrives at an event with Filipino community in Hong Kong, China April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

(reuters_tickers)

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte made a public apology for the August 2010 killing of eight Hong Kong tourists during a bus hostage incident in Manila, a gesture which his predecessor had declined to make.

Speaking before a large crowd of Filipino workers in Hong Kong, the firebrand leader addressed his apology to the Chinese government and its people and vowed it would never happen under his watch.

"From the bottom of my heart, as the President of the Republic of the Philippines and on behalf of the Filipino people, may I formally apologise to you now," Duterte said, acknowledging that lives were lost in the incident.

"I am sorry the incident happened. As humanly possible, I would like to make a guarantee that it will never happen again."

A sacked police officer hijacked a bus carrying 15 Hong Kong tourists in August 2010 and ordered the driver to go to the popular Rizal Park in Manila, but nine people, including the gunman died in a botched police rescue operation.

The incident strained Manila's relations with Hong Kong, from where more than 100,000 tourists came every year before the Chinese special administrative region suspend tour operations to the Philippines.

The dispute was resolved three later when officials from the government of then President Benigno Aquino made personal apologies to the families of the eight victims and provided them with compensation.

But there was no formal apology from the Philippine government. Aquino fired a police general who was in charge of the rescue operations and cases were filed against the gunman's brother for interfering in negotiations with the hostage-taking.

Duterte was in Hong Kong on a holiday after holding talks with China's President Xi Jinping on Tuesday, where the Philippines got 500 million renminbi ($80 million) in investment pledges from Chinese businessmen.

The president also secured a commitment from Beijing to support his ferocious war on drugs and terrorism.

(Writing by Manuel Mogato in MANILA; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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Reuters