MANILA: A Philippine businessman and his wife were shot dead after the police chief branded him a drug lord, authorities said yesterday, fuelling concerns about extrajudicial killings in President Rodrigo Duterte's crime war. More than 2,000 people have been killed since Duterte was sworn into office two months ago and immediately launched a law-and-order crackdown, with the United States, the United Nations and rights groups voicing alarm at the bloodshed.

On Monday, Melvin Odicta, a businessman accused of being a drug trafficker known as "Dragon", and his wife were shot dead at Aklan port in the central Philippines after getting off a ferry, police reported. Regional police chief Jose Gentiles said yesterday the lone gunman had yet to be identified, but was likely also linked to the drug trade. "The most probable motive is that the mastermind wanted to silence the couple. Perhaps the mastermind was afraid the victims would implicate them," Gentiles said. Odicta had expressed fears for his life after local authorities alleged he was the top drug lord in the central province of Iloilo, according to his lawyer.

Odicta had said he was innocent but national police chief Ronald dela Rosa insisted last week he was the drug lord. "Who is he fooling? You know he is the drug lord but he is still denying it? Tell it to the Marines," dela Rosa told reporters on Friday in Iloilo. Duterte has repeatedly said that drug traffickers deserve to die and urged security forces to kill them. During the election campaign he promised that 100,000 people would die in his war on crime. However he said in recent weeks that his security forces are not carrying out extrajudicial killings. Police have reported killing more than 700 people they accused of being involved in drugs.

But police and Duterte say they have only killed in self-defense. Dela Rosa said last week there were another 1,190 killings under investigation, but they were likely due to drug gangs murdering people who could implicate each other. Critics of the crime war say security forces and hired assassins are carrying out mass murder, with people not involved in drugs also being killed amid a dire breakdown in the rule of law. Duterte has railed against his critics, accusing them of siding with drug traffickers, and warned there will be no let up. "I consider the fight against drugs a war. There is a crisis in this country," Duterte said on Monday._ AFP