El Salvador lawmakers extend state of emergency for another month

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El Salvador lawmakers extend state of emergency for another month

El Salvadoran lawmakers extended a state of emergency for another month at the request of President Nayib Bukele after it was imposed in late March to stamp out a wave of deadly gang violence.

The measures were enacted on March 27 after a weekend in which 87 people were killed in gang-related violence, extending police powers so that they could arrest members without a warrant.

Since then, more than 16,000 people have been arrested, and Bukele asked lawmakers to extend the state of emergency for another month.

After summoning members to a session, Ernesto Castro, president of the Legislative Assembly - controlled by Bukele's ruling party, declared that they had approved the extension by 67 out of 84 votes.

Security conditions persist that require the extension, and the new decree states that they need to be extended. He said that he was motivated by the continuation of the circumstances that motivated it.

Once Bukele signs the decree, the extension begins on Tuesday.

Besides arrests without a warrant, the emergency measures also restrict freedom of assembly, while phone calls and emails can be intercepted without a court order.

They approved another law that would simplify and facilitate the acquisition of tax-free goods and render services by the government to address the emergency.

The authorities are planning to build new prisons to hold the thousands of gang members they detain.

The extension was praised by Bukele, who called it the definition of democracy. More than 1,000 terrorists were captured on this day. He said that there were more than 17,000 in just 30 days. The wave of detentions is unprecedented in a country that has suffered decades of violent crime, driven by powerful gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha MS-13 and Barrio 18.

32,000 people are now incarcerated as a result of the crackdown, according to the country's gangs.

In early April, lawmakers had also approved a reform to punish gang members with up to 45 years in prison -- a sharp increase from the original maximum penalty of nine years.

The legislation this month has criminalized disseminating gang-related messages in the media, with penalties of up to 15 years in jail. Journalists have warned that the reform could target certain forms of reporting.

El Salvadoran NGOs asked the judiciary this week to declare that legislation is unconstitutional.

Local and international human rights organisations have alarmed about the broad enactment of powers granted to the military and police.

The president, elected in 2019 in El Salvador, enjoys broad support over his promises to fight organized crime and improve security in the country.