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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures while answering questions during a news conference upon arrival from a trip to Myanmar and Thailand at an international airport in Manila, Philippines March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

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MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told school children on Monday he would not hesitate to kill to protect them from the scourge of drugs and encouraged them to enlist in the army to defend the country from its enemies.

Speaking during a Boys Scouts' ceremony at the presidential palace, Duterte did not mince words, saying he would kill dealers "if you touch our children".

Duterte has repeatedly rebuffed international criticism about his bloody war on drugs, during which more than 8,000 people have been killed since he took power on June 30 last year.

Police have taken responsibility for a third of those deaths, citing self-defense during anti-narcotics operations.

Duterte also said he planned to restore basic military training in universities to instill discipline, stepping up government's crackdown on narcotics.

"I need soldiers, I need boy scouts. Who wants to become soldiers?" he asked. "I am counting on you, are you ready? Answer me, children. Always love you country."

Duterte said the country had become too libertarian as the youth reject the boy scouts and military training program and embrace alcohol, street brawls and drugs.

(Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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