El Salvador has arrested more than 30,000 suspected gang members since President Nayib Bukele in March launched his “war” on criminal groups terrorizing the country, police said on Monday.
Bukele announced a state of emergency in late March following a bloody weekend in which 87 people were killed in gang-related violence.
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Since then, the police and military have been rounding up suspected gang members using emergency powers that have done away with the need for arrest warrants.
The small Central American country has also increased sentences for gang membership five-fold, to up to 45 years.
The national civil police force said on Twitter that “536 terrorists were arrested on Sunday May 15, the date at which we reached 50 days since the beginning of the state of emergency.”
“The total number captured since the beginning of the war on gangs is 30,506.”
The wave of detentions is unprecedented in a country of 6.5 million people that has suffered decades of violent crime driven by powerful gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18.
These gangs count some 70,000 members, and including the recent detentions about 46,000 of them are behind bars, according to authorities.
Rights groups have denounced the arrest of many minors with no gang links.
Earlier this month, Vice President Felix Ulloa told representatives from the International Committee of the Red Cross that the arrests were necessary to fight the gangs.
“The Salvadoran state is assisted by Jus ad Bellum (Latin for ‘right to war’) to defend the people against gang criminal violence,” he said.
Jus ad bellum is an international set of criteria to be consulted before the use of armed force or resorting to war.