El Salvador congress extends gang crackdown yet again

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — The congress of El Salvador has voted to extend President Nayib Bukele’s emergency powers to crack down on gangs for yet another month.

The vote late Wednesday extends for the ninth time the measures, enacted after a surge in murders in March, and ensures they will last into 2023. The crackdown appears to have widespread popular support despite evidence of abuses.

More than 60,000 people have been arrested under the measures, which suspend some constitutional rights and gives police more powers to arrest and hold suspects.

Activists say it has led to human rights abuses, and Salvadoran officials said they will review prison conditions with human rights groups starting in January. Rights activists say young men are frequently arrested just based on their age, on their appearance or whether they live in a gang-dominated slum.

The country’s human rights official, Raquel Caballero, said 2,100 people have been released after arrest because they had no ties to the street gangs.

El Salvador’s gangs, which have been estimated to count some 70,000 members in their ranks, have long controlled swaths of territory and extorted and killed with impunity.

Recent polls show support for the measures reaching nearly 90% among Salvadorans.

Bukele has begun sealing off certain sectors of cities in El Salvador, surrounding them with police and soldiers, and checking anyone entering or leaving.

Bukele requested Congress grant him extraordinary powers after gangs were blamed for 62 killings on March 26.

Under the decree, the right of association, the right to be informed of the reason for an arrest and access to a lawyer are suspended. The government also can intervene in the calls and mail of anyone they consider a suspect. The time someone can be held without charges is extended from three days to 15 days.

Nongovernmental organizations have tallied several thousand human rights violations and at least 80 in-custody deaths of people arrested during the crackdown.

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