El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele speaks during a ceremony to lay the first stone of Chivo Vet, a veterinary hospital financed with the gains El Salvador has obtained from its bitcoin operations, in Antiguo Cuscatlan, El Salvador November 1, 2021. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas/File Photo

SAN SALVADOR, Nov 11 (Reuters) – Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele on Thursday deployed the military to patrol streets throughout the country in response to a sharp surge in murders this week.

The military deployment follows more than 30 homicides on Tuesday and Wednesday in the impoverished Central American nation of about 6.5 million people. Average daily homicides had dropped to less than two per day under Bukele, who took office in 2019.

“We have deployed our national police and armed forces to contain the increase in homicides registered over the last 48 hours,” Bukele posted on Facebook alongside videos of soldiers patrolling the streets.

It was not clear how many soldiers were deployed or how long the operation would last. Bukele alleged there were “dark forces” at work, without elaborating.

A government source said that the majority of the troops would patrol densely populated areas of the capital, San Salvador.

The sight of soldiers on streets will sit uneasily with Bukele’s critics, who accuse the president of growing authoritarianism. Bukele, 40, proclaimed himself “dictator” in his Twitter bio in recent weeks in an apparent joke that did little to soothe the opposition fears. (Full Story)

He was strongly criticized in 2020 for occupying congress with military and police, which many saw as an intimidation tactic.(Full Story)

Murder rates have dropped sharply under Bukele and newspaper El Faro last year alleged government officials negotiated with gang members to reduce violence in exchange for better conditions in prison.

Bukele called the article a “farce,” but the attorney general said it would investigate.(Full Story)

On Thursday, Bukele’s political opponents speculated on social media that the uptick in homicides could be a sign that the truce is falling apart.

Bukele said more measures to halt the violence would be announced in the coming hours.

Reporting by Gerardo Arbaiza, writing by Jake Kincaid, editing by Drazen Jorgic and Cynthia Osterman

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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