Honduras extends, expands state of emergency for second time

FILE PHOTO: Honduras enters partial state of emergency amid gang crackdown

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - The Honduran government extended its state of emergency for a second time on Tuesday, while also expanding it to cover a growing portion of the Central American country, as part of leftist President Xiomara Castro's crackdown on gangs.

The measure, in place since Dec. 6 and first extended in January, suspends some constitutional rights and allows security forces to detain people who they consider associated with or have committed crimes. It will be in place for another 45 days.

The state of emergency, initially covering the country's two largest cities, now covers 123 municipalities.

"The suspension of rights was extended to municipalities where, according to our analysis, criminal groups have migrated to evade the actions of the police and the state," police chief Gustavo Sanchez said at a news conference.

Between Dec. 6 and Feb. 20, there have been 356 fewer homicides than in the same period last year, Sanchez said.

"The success of the operation is measured by the number of lives saved, not by the number of arrests, weapons seized or drugs seized," Sanchez added.

Hondurans face regular extortion in what the notorious MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs called a "war tax" levied on residents, merchants, buses, truck, and taxis.

The state of emergency allows authorities to restrict freedom of movement and assembly, as well as to search homes and make arrests without a warrant.

The government approved the measure after pressure from business and transportations groups and non-governmental organizations, which claim extortion has increased.

Honduras' crackdown follows a nearly year-old state of emergency in neighboring El Salvador, which has widespread public support but has swelled the prison population and drawn allegations of human rights abuses.

(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia)