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US returns looted Balangiga church bells to Philippines

Three bells looted by US troops more than a century ago have been returned to their church in the Philippines.

President Rodrigo Duterte praised his countrymen and the US at a ceremony in Balangiga, where the treasures were taken 117 years ago.

The bronze bells were seized during the Philippine-American War as part of reprisals following a massacre.

In August, the US Embassy announced the return of the so-called Balangiga bells after decades of pressure.

"Nobody, but nobody, can claim a singular credit for the generous act of the Americans," Mr Duterte told a jubilant crowd on Saturday.

"The credit goes to the American people and to the Filipino people, period."

The president had called for their return in a 2017 speech, in which he also suggested building closer ties with China.

The bells are viewed as a symbol of Philippine independence against their former colonial masters.

Following the Balangiga massacre of 1901, when Filipino militants ambushed and killed 48 US troops, US General Jacob H Smith ordered the area be turned into a "howling wilderness".

US troops seized the three bronze bells as war trophies during the bloody reprisals. Thousands of Filipinos are thought to have been killed.

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