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Bukele asks Congress for more laws to fight gangs in El Salvador

El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele on Tuesday asked the Legislative Assembly (Congress) to approve more legal tools to confront a wave of gang homicides that from Friday to Sunday left 87 people dead.

“I have asked the president of the Assembly to convene an extraordinary session to request the approval of more legal tools to combat gangs more effectively,” the president wrote on Twitter, without specifying what measures he will request.

Congress President Ernesto Castro immediately called an “extraordinary” plenary session for Wednesday afternoon.

Bukele’s call comes after Parliament declared a state of emergency on Sunday, following an escalation in murders allegedly ordered by the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 gangs.

The state of emergency restricts civil liberties and expands the powers of the police and the army in the control of public order.

According to Bukele, there are already 2,163 gang members captured in less than 72 hours under the exception regime and he warned that “none will go free”.

On Monday, authorities reported two homicides.

Bukele gave Monday an ultimatum to the gangs to “stop killing”, under the threat of further increasing punishments to its more than 16,000 members in prisons where a strict state of emergency prevails with locking them in cells without being able to go out to the courtyards.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed on Tuesday its “concern” because the prisoners “remain in confinement for 24 hours with reduced food and stripped of their mats”.

The IACHR pronounced that the “State must urgently reverse all measures that put at risk the life and integrity” of the prisoners.

“The IACHR has already come out to defend the gang members. But not a single word about the victims of these murderers. It is clear which side they are on,” Bukele responded.

The president wondered “Do you know how many countries have decided to help us in the war against the gangs. Exactly: NONE.

“Don’t come later to tell us what we should have done or not done, when at the moment we could have needed them, they left us alone,” he stressed.

The Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 gangs, among others, have some 70,000 members in El Salvador. According to authorities, they operate through homicides, extortion, drug trafficking and other illegal activities.

El Salvador closed 2021 with the lowest homicide rate since the end of the civil war in 1992, with 18 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, according to official data. The total number of homicides, 1,147, also represented a reduction compared to 2020, when there were 1,341.

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