Country declares state of emergency after 62 killings in a day


El Salvador has the worst murder rate in the world (Picture: AP)

More than 60 people have been killed in a day of mass killings in El Salvador, forcing the country’s President to declare a state of emergency.

Saturday’s grim death toll of 62 followed the killings of another 14 people in gang-related murders on Friday.

The country’s congress granted President Nayib Bukele’s request to declare a state of emergency early on Sunday following the violence, which is thought to be the worst in years.

The 76 deaths over two days compares with 79 homicides in the whole of February.

The killings are thought to have been ordered by the Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13 gang, police say, adding that they captured five of its leaders.

The country’s notorious street gangs effectively control a number of neighbourhoods in the capital San Salvador, where armed police and servicemen have been patrolling the street.

The gangs have blighted the Central American country’s recent history, giving the country one of the worst crime rates in the world.


Heavily armed police guard the streets in down town San Salvador, El Salvador, Sunday, March 27, 2022.

Heavily armed police guard the streets in down town San Salvador, the capital (Picture: AP)


Soldiers man a checkpoint at the entrance to the Las Palmas Community, a neighborhood that is supposed to be under the control of Barrio 18 Gang in San Salvador, El Salvador, Sunday, March 27, 2022.

Soldiers man a checkpoint at the entrance of the Las Palmas Community, a neighborhood largely under gang control (Picture: AP)

The decree suspends constitutional guarantees of freedom of assembly and loosens arrest rules for as many as 30 days – though that could be extended.

Research from Statista in 2021 suggests that El Salvador has the world’s worst murder rate, at 82.8 per 100,000 inhabitants. Its neighbour Honduras was second on 56.5.

The UK was around 1.2 in 2018.

While El Salvador’s leader has tried to talk tough on crime, the country’s enormously powerful gangs have proved a double-edged sword for him.

‘We must remind the people of El Salvador that what is happening now is due to the negligence of those who protected criminals,’ the conservative Arena party said in a statement.


A soldier checks a man's backpack at the exit of the Las Palmas Community, a neighborhood that is supposed to be under the control of the Barrio 18 Gang in San Salvador, El Salvador, Sunday, March 27, 2022.

A soldier checks a man’s backpack at the exit of the Las Palmas Community (Picture: AP)


An informal food vendor, left, waits at her stall next to a Municipal Police officer at a crime scene in San Salvador, El Salvador, Sunday, March 27, 2022.

]An informal food vendor waits at her stall next to a police officer at a crime scene (Picture: AP)

The comments appeared to be a reference to a December report by the US Treasury which claimed that Mr Bukele’s government secretly negotiated a truce with leaders of the gangs.

The US government alleges Mr Bukele’s government bought the gangs’ support with financial benefits and privileges for their imprisoned leaders, including prostitutes and mobile phones.

The explosive accusations have damaged the President, who has made much of a plunge in the country’s murder rate and strenuously denied the accusations when they were reported in August 2020.


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The Treasury statement said that Mr Bukele’s administration ‘provided financial incentives to Salvadoran gangs MS-13 and 18th Street Gang (Barrio 18) to ensure that incidents of gang violence and the number of confirmed homicides remained low.

‘Over the course of these negotiations with Luna and Marroquin, gang leadership also agreed to provide political support to the Nuevas Ideas political party in upcoming elections.’

The revelations raised tensions between President Bukele, seen as hugely popular in the country, and the Joe Biden administration.

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