10,000 police and soldiers have been sent by the Salvadoran government to cordon off a town on the outskirts of the national capital to search for gang members.

President Nayib Bukele has cracked down on street gangs that have extorted money from businesses and run many neighborhoods in the capital, San Salvador, for the past nine months.

The latest operation was one of the largest mobilizations to date in this Central American country.

Troops were checking people’s papers as they blocked roads in and out of Soyapango township, while special teams drove into the town in search of gang suspects.

“From now on, Soyapango Township is completely surrounded,” Bukele tweeted.

He also shared videos showing ranks of soldiers armed with rifles.

More than 58,000 people have been imprisoned since a state of emergency was declared following a spate of killings in late March.

The mass raids have been condemned by rights activists, who say young men are often arrested because of their appearance, age or where they live in a gang-dominated slum.

The right of association, the right to be informed of the reason for an arrest and access to a lawyer are suspended under the decree. The government can also intervene in the calls or mail of anyone considered suspicious.

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The government of El Salvador has sent 10,000 soldiers and police to cordon off Soyapango

An individual can now be detained without charge for 15 days after being extended for three days.

Gangs in El Salvador are estimated to number some 70,000 members in their ranks and have long controlled swaths of territory, extorting and killing with impunity.

A resident watches from her door as a soldier takes part in an operation to search for gang members
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A resident watches from her door as a soldier takes part in an operation to search for gang members

But earlier this month, Mr Bukele’s crackdown reached another level when his government sent detainees to cemeteries to destroy the graves of gang members at a time of year when families typically visit the graves of their relatives.

Several thousand human rights violations and at least 80 deaths in custody have been recorded so far in the crackdown by non-governmental organizations.

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