El Salvadoran lawmakers approve a state of emergency after top gang leaders were arrested over a wave of recent bloodshed, the president of the country's Legislative Assembly said.

The police reported that 62 people were killed on Saturday alone.
The police reported that 62 people were killed on Saturday alone. (AFP)

El Salvador has declared a state of emergency, curtailing civil liberties and expanding police power as the country faces a wave of gang-related bloodshed that has left dozens dead in just two days.

El Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele asked the legislature — controlled by his ruling party — to meet to declare a state of emergency, under which certain freedoms are curtailed. 

Lawmakers did so early on Sunday morning, in a decree that "declares an emergency regime throughout the national territory derived from serious disturbances to public order by criminal groups."

The declaration — approved by a large majority — restricts free assembly, the inviolability of correspondence and communications, and allows for arrests without a warrant.

"We approve the #emergencyregime that will allow our Government to protect the lives of Salvadorans and confront criminality head-on," Legislative Assembly President Ernesto Castro said in a tweet.

The Salvadoran constitution says that a state of emergency can be put into place "in cases of war, invasion of territory, rebellion, sedition, catastrophe, epidemic or other general calamity, or serious disturbances of public order." 

READ MORE: Thousands protest in El Salvador against Bukele government

New spike in homicides

Gang violence has soared in El Salvador, with police reporting that 62 people were killed on Saturday alone.

According to official figures, 12 of the killings took place in the central department of La Libertad, with the capital San Salvador and the western department of Ahuachapan recording nine each.

The rest were distributed across the country's remaining departments.

Police and the military arrested several leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang over the spate of killings on Saturday.

"We will not back down in this war against gangs, we will not rest until the criminals responsible for these acts are captured and brought to justice," the country's National Civil Police posted on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Bukele asked the prosecutor's office "to be effective with all the cases" of gang members that it processes, warning he would keep an eye on "judges who favour criminals."

Castro said "while we fight criminals in the streets, we must try to figure out what is happening and who is financing this."

Last November, El Salvador suffered another spike in homicides that claimed the lives of some 45 people in three days.

READ MORE: Allies of El Salvador President Bukele win legislative elections

Source: AFP