Salvadoran president sends more soldiers to fight crime after standoff with lawmakers

Slideshow ( 12 images )

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele deployed hundreds of soldiers on Tuesday to fight gangs, days after facing criticism for barging into Congress with the army to pressure lawmakers over his security plan.

The 1,400 soldiers will join about 8,600 already battling crime, an increase of about 16%.

In recent weeks, Bukele, who took office in June, has urged lawmakers to agree to a $109 million loan to help equip police and soldiers in the fight against crime in a nation racked by gang violence. He continued his push on Tuesday, delivering a fiery speech before hundreds of soldiers, complaining that legislators were delaying approval of the funds and accusing them of supporting criminals.

“These are difficult days in which you have decided to support and protect the Salvadoran people, days in which we know that most politicians are protecting criminals, days in which we know that deputies and former ministers financed the criminals that you are going to have to pursue and capture,” Bukele said.

Bukele has faced criticism for his brief occupation of the National Assembly on Feb. 9, when he sat in the seat reserved for the president of Congress and cupped his hands together to pray as soldiers in full battle uniform looked on.

“Lawmakers are scandalized when they see a soldier, but they were not scandalized when gang members entered the Legislative Assembly to negotiate the lives of Salvadorans,” Bukele said.

El Salvador’s murder rate has plunged since Bukele took office, but remains high.

Salvadoran soldiers have worked in security since the 1990’s, though the practice is frowned on by human rights groups.

Reporting by Nelson Renteria; writing by Julia Love; Editing by Leslie Adler