Mayor, ex-cop arrested for suspected gang links in Honduras

Members of the Honduran Military Police and of the Technical Agency of Criminal Investigation capture former National Police captain Alvaro Ernesto Garcia Calderon (C) in Valle de Angeles municipality, near Tegucigalpa on February 23, 2016 (AFP Photo/Orlando Sierra)

Tegucigalpa (AFP) - Police in Honduras on Tuesday arrested eight people, including a mayor of a town close to the capital and a former policeman, on charges of links to one of the country's most feared criminal gangs, officials said.

They were taken to maximum-security holding cells pending prosecution on charges of criminal association, extortion and murder, the head of the police investigation unit, Ricardo Castro, told a news conference.

The suspects were thought to be connected to Mara Salvatrucha, a gang that counts among the most vicious in the country.

Authorities also seized 42 properties, 13 companies, 53 vehicles and a clinic owned by the suspects on suspicion they came from gang-related activities.

Honduras' government has been waging a hardline campaign against gangs that make the country, along with neighboring El Salvador and Guatemala, among the most dangerous nations in the world.

The crackdown has shown some signs of success in the past couple of years, but violence is still rife, and the gangs are widely feared.

The country has a murder rate of around 60 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, more than 10 times that for the United States.