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El Salvador declares state of emergency amid spike in gang killings

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El Salvador’s Congress permitted President Nayib Bukele to declare a state of emergency on Sunday after the country saw a significant uptick in gang-related killings since Friday. 

Bukele’s request, which was announced on Saturday and approved Sunday, came after 14 people were killed Friday and 62 others were killed Saturday, The Associated Press reported. 

Saturday marked the most violent 24-hour period of time that the country has seen since 1992, BBC reported. 

The recent deaths, which are thought to be connected to street gangs, also neared the 79 homicides the country saw during the entire month of February, the AP reported. 

Under the new declaration, constitutional guarantees of freedom of assembly can be suspended and policies surrounding arrests can be loosened for 30 days. The decree, however, can be extended if needed, according to the wire service.

The National Police said they captured five leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13, the group police said ordered the recent killings, the AP added. 

Meanwhile, the conservative Arena party released a statement in an apparent nod to a 2020 U.S. Treasury Department report.

“We must remind the people of El Salvador that what is happening now is due to the negligence of those who protected criminals,” Arena’s statement said, reportedly referencing allegations that Bukele’s government negotiated a secret truce with the gangs including privileges like prostitutes and cell phones for imprisoned gang leaders, according to the AP.

“Cell phones and prostitutes in the prisons? Money to the gangs? When did that happen? Didn’t they even check the date? How can they put out a such an obvious lie without anyone questioning them?” the president said of the claims which he denied at the time of the report. 

Bukele, who was elected in 2019, ran on campaign promises to combat organized crime, BBC reported. 

“While we fight criminals in the streets, we must try to figure out what is happening and who is financing this,” he said Saturday, adding that the country “must let the agents and soldiers do their job and must defend them from the accusations of those who protect the gang members.” 

Tags El Salvador Gangs in El Salvador Nayib Bukele

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