MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's Congress on Thursday approved President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's plan to create a national guard, a key piece of the government's strategy to rein in gang violence that has cost tens of thousands of lives over the past decade.
With approval in hand from both the lower house and Senate, the constitutional reform to create the national guard will now head to Lopez Obrador for his ratification and then be published in the official gazette to become law.
The government said initially that in a first phase, the guard would consist of some 50,000 members transferred from military and federal police forces. Mexican Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said recently the ranks of the national guard would grow to some 80,000 by the end of the year.
The guard will also fall under civilian control, after critics protested that military leadership could increase Mexico's militarization.
Security forces in recent years have been accused of extreme rights abuses, further worsening Mexico's reputation for violence. Since former President Felipe Calderon sent in the army to take on drug cartels in late 2006, gang violence has been blamed for more than 250,000 killings.
(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Anthony Esposito and Peter Cooney)