Handout picture released by the Press Secretary of the Presidency of El Salvador showing police officers registering the arrival of inmates belonging to the MS-13 and 18 gangs to the new prison "Terrorist Confinement Centre" (CECOT), in Tecoluca, 74 km southeast of San Salvador, on Feb 24, 2023. (SALVADOREAN PRESIDENCY / AFP)
SAN SALVADOR – El Salvador's government moved thousands of suspected gang members to a newly opened "mega prison" on Friday, the latest step in a controversial crackdown on crime that has caused the Central American nation's prison population to soar.
"This will be their new home, where they won't be able to do any more harm to the population," President Nayib Bukele wrote on Twitter.
Around 2,000 accused gang members were moved to the 40,000-person-capacity prison, considered to be the largest in the Americas, early Friday morning
Around 2,000 accused gang members were moved to the 40,000-person-capacity prison, considered to be the largest in the Americas, early Friday morning.
In a video posted by Bukele, prisoners stripped down to white shorts, with their heads shaved, are seen running through the new prison into cells. Many bear gang tattoos.
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Bukele asked his allies in El Salvador's Congress to pass a state of exception last year, which has since been extended several times, that suspends some constitutional rights after a dramatic spike in murders attributed to violent gangs.
Since then, more than 64,000 suspects have been arrested in the anti-crime dragnet. Arrests can be made without a warrant, private communications are accessible by the government, and detainees no longer have the right to a lawyer.
Human rights organizations argue that innocent people have been caught up in the policy, including at least dozens who have died in police custody.
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But Bukele's anti-gang push remains widely popular with Salvadorans, and the country's security minister told Reuters it would continue until all criminals are captured.