Saturday, April 3, 2004

Salvadoran congress approves anti-gang law

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) -- El Salvador's congress has approved a new law that extends harsher punishments for gang members.

The law was approved late Thursday, despite opposition from the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN.

It will take effect Friday and be in place for three months, replacing a similar measure set to expire on Wednesday.

In order to make permanent changes to El Salvador's penal code, lawmakers need two-thirds of the votes from congress' 84 members -- something they don't have. So they have been approving temporary measures.

Under the new law, gang members older than 12 face between three and six years in prison for associating with gang members. Graffiti can earn a gang member up to six years in jail.

FMLN lawmakers protested the new law by watching the debate on closed circuit television from their offices.

"This law isn't the solution to the problem," lawmaker Manuel Melgar said. "It has unconstitutional elements."

The Supreme Court is determining whether the country's anti-gang measures are constitutional.

El Salvador and Guatemala have cracked down on gang members, who have responded by mutilating bodies and leaving angry notes for Honduran President Ricardo Maduro.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.