A group of Salvadoran soldiers armed with automatic weapons have briefly occupied El Salvador's parliament while President Bukele issued an ultimatum to lawmakers to approve a loan, which the government needs to equip crime-fighting forces.
They forced their way into the Congress building on Sunday, with President Nayib Bukele taking the seat reserved for the president of the legislative chamber to address the lawmakers on the $109-million loan he seeks for his crime-fighting plan.
Lawmakers from the established left and right political groups had postponed the approval of the loan.
Bukele took office in June 2019, pledging to tackle the legacy of gang violence and corruption in the impoverished and crime-stricken Central American country.
The rise to power of Bukele, who is considered an outsider, ended nearly three decades of the two-party system dominated by the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front and the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance.
Reminding the legislators of public frustration with the two-party rule, the president slammed the Congress for what he described as foot-dragging over approval of the loan he needs to equip police and soldiers in their anti-crime campaign.
Under Bukele’s plan, the loan would be spent on purchasing a helicopter, police cars, uniforms, night vision goggles and other equipment, including a video surveillance system.
The Salvadoran president had called on his supporters to take to streets to pressure the lawmakers. Responding to his call, some 50,000 pro-government demonstrators turned out.
Bukele warned lawmakers that the pro-government demonstrators will return to streets if the loan requested was not approved.
The president told his supporters in a fiery speech outside the building that he will remain patient with the lawmakers for the time being, promising his power base that all the lawmakers opposed to his proposals will be kicked out of Congress in next year’s election scheduled for February.
“I ask you for patience,” Bukele told his supporters. “If those shameless people don’t approve the plan of territorial control, we’ll summon you here again on Sunday.”
Top commanders of police and military have voiced support for the president during the stand-off.
The Congress on Monday was due to discuss the proposals to better equip police and soldiers to fight crime and violence.
Bukele’s move ‘reminiscent of El Salvador’s darkest times’
Bukele’s opponents accuse him of using intimidation and authoritarian tactics in governing the country.
Human rights organizations have questioned his political tactics as well.
Reacting to the deployment of security forces to the parliament, Amnesty International warned in a statement that Bukele’s move “reminds us of the darkest times in El Salvador’s history and raises international alarm over the future of human rights in the country.”
“The multiple reports of snipers stationed near the Legislative Assembly, the unnecessary military presence and the restrictions on press freedom could mark the beginning of a dangerous route for institutions and for human rights in the country,” it added.