El Salvador parliament chief accuses president of ‘attempted coup’

The president of El Salvador’s parliament on Monday accused President Nayib Bukele of an “attempted coup” after soldiers entered the building while Bukele demanded lawmakers approve a military loan.

Bukele had “attempted a coup d’etat” against the legislative assembly on Sunday, said Mario Ponce, of the conservative National Coalition Party (PCN), after meeting with fellow political party representatives.

“We cannot respond to the executive branch with a gun to our head,” he said, calling on the government to engage in dialogue.

Bukele called an extraordinary weekend session of parliament to ask it to approve a $109 million loan to equip the military and police to fight against violent gangs.

The loan has pitted the executive against lawmakers in a country with one of the world’s highest murder rates.

Before Bukele’s entry on Sunday, armed police and soldiers with rifles and wearing body armor entered the chamber and stood guard — a move not seen since the end of the country’s civil war in 1992.

“If these good-for-nothings (lawmakers) do not approve the Territorial Control Plan this week we will call them to hold a session again next Sunday,” Bukele said in a speech to supporters outside the parliament.

Bukele, who took office last June, has pledged to tackle gang violence and intends using the loan to better equip the military and police, but lawmakers refused to sit for an extra session over the weekend to debate the issue.

The presence of troops prompted international cries of concern.

Amnesty International said in a statement posted on Twitter that the military presence “could mark the beginning of a dangerous route for institutions and for human rights in the country.”

The European Union, meanwhile, expressed “great concern” over the “confrontation” between Salvadoran institutions.

El Salvador is one of the world’s most dangerous nations — excluding those enduring an armed conflict — with an average of 35.6 homicides per 100,000 people last year.