MANILA, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday told the International Criminal Court (ICC) to go ahead and investigate him for crimes against humanity, and said he would prefer to face a firing squad than be jailed.

However, the firebrand leader notorious for his defiance of international pressure questioned whether the ICC had jurisdiction to indict him over the deaths of thousands of Filipinos in his war on drugs.

He denied ever giving an order to police to kill drug suspects.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said on Thursday the preliminary examination into Duterte’s campaign sought to establish whether it had the jurisdiction, and if crimes against humanity had been committed.

“I would ask for the rare privilege of talking to you. Just the two of us in the room,” Duterte said during a news conference, referring to Bensouda.

“I welcome you. If you want to find me guilty, go ahead. So be it. Find a country where they kill people with a firing squad and I’m ready.

“If you haul me into a rigmarole of trial and trial, no need. Go ahead and proceed in your investigation. Find me guilty, of course. You can do that.”

(FILES) The prosecutor at the International Criminal Court on February 8, 2018 (ICC) launched initial probes into alleged crimes against humanity during the "war on drugs" in the Philippines and political upheaval in Venezuela."Since 2016, I have closely followed the situations" in both the Philippines and Venezuela, prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement. After "a careful, independent and impartial review... I have decided to open a preliminary examination into each situation." In the Philippines, her office would "analyse crimes allegedly committed... since at least 1 July 2016, in the context of the 'war on drugs' campaign" launched by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. — AFP PHOTO

About 4,000 mostly urban poor Filipinos have been killed by police in Duterte’s signature campaign that has alarmed the international community.

Activists believe the death toll is far higher and accuse police or systematic cover-ups and executions. Police and the government dismiss that.

The examination is the first formal step the ICC prosecutor takes when considering whether a situation in a member state could eventually lead to charges. The process may take years.

Central to whether it proceeds is if the court has jurisdiction, since it can only prosecute crimes when a member state fails to do so.

Duterte’s legal counsel and his attorney general on Friday said several cases related to the anti-drugs crackdown were pending in courts and a Senate investigation had found no evidence of wrongdoing.

The ICC complaints came from a lawyer and two lawmakers and include the accounts of two self-confessed hit men who say they killed at Duterte’s behest when he was a city mayor, and public statements he made as president that they say amounted to ‘shoot-to-kill’ orders.

Duterte said it was doubtful the ICC had jurisdiction in the Philippines because its accession to the ICC’s Rome Statute in 2011 had never been announced in the country’s official gazette, as required to be considered lawful.

He also vented his anger at allegations of extrajudicial killings during his campaign, saying the term could not be defined.

“What is extrajudicial killing?” he said. “There is no provision for extrajudicial killing, it is not defined anywhere.” — REUTERS

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