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El Salvador sends troops to surround town after police officer killed

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — More than 5,000 soldiers and 500 police encircled a small town in northern El Salvador after President Nayib Bukele said Wednesday gang members had killed a member of the national police there.

Bukele said via Twitter that the deployment in Nueva Concepción, about 43 miles (70 kilometers), north of the capital, was “in search of those responsible for the homicide and the entire gang structure and collaborators still hiding in that place.”

“They will pay dearly for the murder of our hero,” Bukele said.

Bukele has been waging an all out war against the country’s powerful street gangs since March 2022. He requested the Congress grant him extraordinary powers after gangs were blamed for 62 killings on March 26. The measures include the suspension of some fundamental rights.

The Congress voted to extend those supposedly temporary measures for a 14th time on Tuesday.

Under the emergency powers, authorities have arrested more than 68,500 alleged gang members or collaborators.

It is not the first time authorities have shut down access to a town.

Last October, 2,000 soldiers and police surrounded Comasagua about 20 miles (30 kilometers) southwest of the capital, to search for gang members allegedly responsible for a killing. About 50 suspects were detained in two days.

And in December, the government sent 10,000 soldiers and police to seal off Soyapango while they searched for gang members.

Human rights organizations have criticized the heavy-handed measures and called on the government to respect due process.

Homicides have plummeted in the country and residents have returned to neighborhoods that were long controlled by gangs.