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El Salvador authorises 'lethal force' to curb gang violence during coronavirus outbreak

Inmates are lined up during a security operation under the watch of police at the Izalco prison in San Salvador, El Salvador on the weekend. Source: El Salvador President Press Office

Inmates in El Salvador have been crammed together during a 24-hour lockdown on jailed gang members despite the spread of the coronavirus.

Inmates are being crammed together inside El Salvador's prisons as authorities try to curb bursts of gang violence breaking out amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Photos shared by prison officials show hundreds of inmates stripped down to their shorts and forced to sit in a chain on the floor, with only some appearing to wear masks.

Only some inmates were given masks to wear during the prison search.
Only some inmates were given masks to wear during the prison search.
El Salvador President Press Office

The government has ordered members of rival gangs into shared cells in a bid to break up lines of communication between members of the same group, while carrying out searches in at least five prisons.

El Salvador President Nayib Bukele this week authorised the use of "lethal force" by police and the military against gang members in a bid to curb heightened violence during the pandemic.

The Central American country reported 24 homicides last Friday, the worst one-day toll since Mr Bukele took office in June, prompting him to order a 24-hour lockdown in prisons housing gang members.

Authorities believe jailed gang members were behind the murders, ordering hits from behind bars.

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By late afternoon on Sunday, police had registered another 29 murders, prompting Mr Bukele to introduce tougher measures against gangs he said were taking advantage of the fact security forces were busy helping to contain the virus outbreak.

El Salvador's prisons director Osiris Luna Meza has shared photos on Twitter showing the lockdown inside the country's jails.

"Not a single ray of sunlight is going to enter any cell," Mr Meza wrote.

"This is necessary to stop this wave of homicides." 

Some 12,862 gang members are incarcerated in El Salvador, prison authorities said.

Source Reuters - SBS

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