A state of emergency has been declared in El Salvador after 76 gang-related killings in just two days.
A total of 14 people were killed on Friday and 62 on Saturday in a wave of violence not seen in years that has effectively left street gangs in control of many neighborhoods in the capital, San Salvador.
The National Police believed the killings were the work of some of the country’s notorious street gangs and arrested five Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13 leaders.
The Central American country’s congress on Sunday approved President Nayib Bukele’s request for a state of emergency.
The executive order would suspend constitutional guarantees of freedom of assembly and relax arrest rules for up to 30 days, but could be extended.
While Mr Bukele has tried to project a tough attitude on crime, the country’s hugely powerful street gangs have proved a double-edged sword for him.
Read more: El Salvador allows ‘deadly force’ in gang crackdowns
A December report by the US Treasury Department claimed Mr Bukele’s government had secretly brokered a truce with some gang leaders – a claim he denied and which has heightened tensions between the two nations.
The report alleges that Mr Bukele’s government bought gang support with financial benefits and privileges for their jailed leaders, including prostitutes and cellphones.
As a result, the United States Agency for International Development announced that it would shift aid from government agencies to El Salvador to non-governmental organizations.
The bombshell charges touched the heart of one of Mr Bukele’s most vaunted successes in office: a drop in the country’s homicide rate.
However, Mr. Bukele still enjoys extremely high popularity. He entered a political vacuum left by discredited mainstream parties of left and right, and made headlines last year with its promise to build a “Bitcoin City” at the foot of a volcano.
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