In El Salvador, troops surround towns to root out gangs

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — More than 2,000 soldiers and police surrounded the town of El Salvador on Sunday, closing it down and searching for a member of a street gang accused of murder.

The massive siege of the town of Comasagua is the latest example of the government’s heavy-handed tactics to root out street gangs. Everyone entering or leaving town was interrogated or examined.

President Naib Bukele wrote on his Twitter account that members of the MS-13 gang are still believed to be in Comasagua, about 20 miles (30 km) southwest of the capital San Salvador.

Bukele asked parliament to grant him special powers after the gang was accused of killing 62 people on March 26, and the decree has been updated monthly since. Suspends some constitutional rights and empowers police to arrest and detain suspects.

So far, the state of emergency has resulted in 53,485 arrests, of which 47,893 have been prosecuted.

A state of exception suspends the right to associate, the right to be informed of the grounds for arrest, and access to legal counsel. The government can also intervene in the phone calls and emails of those it deems a suspect. Her period of detention without charge will be extended from 3 days to 15 days.

Rights activists say young men are often arrested simply because of their age, appearance or whether they live in gang-controlled slums.

Salvadoran gangs, estimated to number about 70,000 members, have long controlled territory, extorting and killing with impunity.