At least 20 people shot dead at Mexican cockfighting ring

In nearby El Salvador, authorities enact state of emergency over recent gang violence

Agents from the prosecutor's office stand at a venue where illegal cockfights take place and where at least 20 people were murdered in Michoacan, Mexico. APF

Gunmen killed at least 20 people at a clandestine cockfighting ring in Mexico, in what President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Monday described as a “massacre” involving rival criminal gangs.

The attack happened on Sunday night in the town of Las Tinajas in Michoacan, a western state that has been plunged into violence by turf wars between rival drug cartels.

The attorney general's office said the lifeless bodies of 16 men and three women were found at the scene, all bearing gunshot wounds. An additional person died on the way to hospital, while others were being treated for injuries, it later said.

Michoacan's public security office said authorities were working to track down those responsible for the shooting at the venue, which is used for cockfighting, concerts and dancing.

Mr Lopez Obrador said that the attack was “a massacre by one group against another".

The perpetrators “came and shot the attendees and unfortunately there were many deaths”, he told reporters.

Mexico has been trapped in a spiral of cartel-related bloodshed since 2006, when the government launched a controversial anti-drug operation with federal troops.

The violence has since claimed more than 340,000 lives, most of them lost to organised crime, official figures show.

Meanwhile in El Salvador, politicians on Sunday declared a state of emergency at President Nayib Bukele's request, expanding police powers and curtailing civil liberties as the country faces soaring, gang-related violence.

Police reported 62 people were killed in the country on Saturday alone and another 14 on Friday.

Armed with assault rifles and bulletproof vests, police and soldiers patrolled the streets on Sunday, with the security cabinet announcing the capture of “more than 400 gang members” belonging to Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, which are accused of having unleashed a “wave of violence” in the country.

In response to the surge in violence, Mr Bukele asked the legislature — controlled by his ruling party — to approve a one-month state of emergency under which certain freedoms are curtailed.

Under the move, free association and assembly are restricted, correspondence may be opened, and telephone calls and emails intercepted without a court order.

Approved by a large majority — 67 of 84 legislators — the decree “declares an emergency regime throughout the national territory".

Soldiers stand guard on a street in San Salvador after the Congress approved a state of emergency. Reuters

The 40-year-old Mr Bukele, who was elected in 2019, enjoys broad support in El Salvador over his promises to fight organised crime and improve security in the violence-wracked country.

El Salvador registered 1,140 murders in 2021 — an average of 18 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants — a decline from the 1,341 registered the previous year and the lowest figure since the country's civil war ended in 1992, official data show.

Updated: March 29, 2022, 4:58 AM