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El Salvador's president extends lockdown, crimping law allowing restart of economy

FILE PHOTO: El Salvador President Nayib Bukele speaks at a news conference during a nationwide quarantine as El Salvador's government undertakes steadily stricter measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Ilopango, El Salvador May 18, 2020. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - El Salvador’s government on Tuesday extended a strict lockdown until June 6, after President Nayib Bukele threatened to veto a law passed by Congress aimed at accelerating the reopening of the country’s economy prior to that date.

The legal minister to the president, Conan Castro, said the order was in line with Bukele’s plan to gradually re-open the economy only after another phase of strict quarantine measures to contain the coronavirus.

“The curve has not started to fall, the curve is still rising, and we need to stay in our homes, the only manner we know of around the world to contain the pandemic,” Castro told reporters.

Bukele, 38, has spent the past few days scrapping with Congress over who should dictate the terms of the lockdown.

The law passed overnight by Congress, with 63 out 84 possible votes, sets out measures for a gradual return to normal in El Salvador, which has imposed some of the toughest lockdown measures in the Americas.

The law was to take effect eight days after its promulgation, but Bukele argued it was too risky to re-open the Central American country so soon, and said on Twitter that it would lead to a massive contagion of Salvadorans if it came into effect.

“Thank God I can veto it,” he wrote.

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled against Bukele’s weekend decision to order an extension of the country’s state of emergency without getting approval from Congress.

Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Raju Gopalakrishnan