El Salvador's president says ordinary citizens "have nothing to fear"
The El Salvadoran authorities have surrounded the city of Soyapango with 10,000 police and soldiers in a sweeping crackdown on gang violence, President Nayib Bukele announced on Sunday. The operation, which comes in response to an outbreak of violence earlier this year, has already seen 12 people arrested, according to the country's justice minister.
"As of this moment, the municipality of Soyapango is totally surrounded," Bukele wrote on Twitter, accompanying his words with a video showing large numbers of military men mobilizing. "Extraction teams from the police and the army are tasked with extricating all the gang members still there one by one," he added.
The president stressed that ordinary citizens "have nothing to fear" from the crackdown. Over 58,000 people have been jailed by the authorities since March, when Bukele announced a state of emergency that allowed police to arrest suspects without warrants.
Bukele has defended the emergency measures by arguing they were necessary because the violence had reached such a point that gangs were being blamed for 62 murders in the space of a single day in a country of just 6.5 million people.
The state of emergency was extended in July, passed by an overwhelming majority in the legislative assembly, which is controlled by allies of the president. Sentences for gang membership are also steeper under the emergency measures.
This week's crackdown in Soyapango is the first demonstration of Bukele's 'Extraction' operation, the latest phase in his government's program to regain control of El Salvador's cities from the gangs. Police are using high-tech surveillance equipment and examining identity papers of anyone attempting to come or go, hoping to prevent gang members from escaping and regrouping elsewhere.
Some pro-Western human rights groups have complained that the state of emergency leads to indiscriminate arrests, as El Salvador has now surpassed the US for having the highest per-capita prison population in the world. However, Bukele insists that 95% of Salvadorans support the crackdown, as it has made their communities safer.