El Salvador declares state of emergency over spike in gang killings

SAN SALVADOR – El Salvadoran lawmakers declared a state of emergency at President Nayib Bukele’s request, expanding police powers and curtailing civil liberties as the country faces soaring gang-related bloodshed that has left dozens dead in just two days.

The small Central American nation has endured a fresh wave of gang violence, with police reporting 62 people on Saturday alone.

According to official figures, 12 of the killings took place in central La Libertad department, with the capital San Salvador and the western department of Ahuachapan recording nine each. The rest were distributed across other departments.

Hours before the emergency declaration, police and the military arrested several leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang over the spate of killings, which authorities said included 14 gang-related deaths on Friday.

“We will not back down in this war against gangs, we will not rest until the criminals responsible for these acts are captured and brought to justice,” the country’s National Civil Police posted on Twitter.

In response to the surge in violence, Bukele asked the legislature – controlled by his ruling party – to approve a one-month state of emergency, under which certain freedoms are curtailed.

Under the move, free association and assembly are restricted, and correspondences may be opened or telephone calls and emails intercepted without a court order.

It also curtails the right to be informed of the reason for arrest and access to a lawyer upon being detained, in addition to allowing for administrative detentions that last more than 72 hours.

“For the vast majority of people, life continues as normal,” though “targeted” temporary closures will be in effect in some areas, Bukele tweeted after the lawmakers approved the request early on Sunday.

“Religious services, sporting events, commerce, studies, etc, may continue as normal,” he added, “unless you are a gang member or are considered suspicious by the authorities.”

Approved by a large majority, 67 of 84 legislators, the decree “declares an emergency regime throughout the national territory”.

“We approve the #emergencyregime that will allow our Government to protect the lives of Salvadorans and confront criminality head-on,” the Legislative Assembly president, Ernesto Castro, said in a tweet.

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