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Wednesday, 20 June, 2001, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
Emergency powers in Guatemala
Police inspect an armoured vehicle riddled with bullets in Guatemala City
Many fear violent crime will rise after the jailbreak
The President of Guatemala, Alfonso Portillo, has declared a nationwide state of alarm following Sunday's massive jail break of some of the country's most dangerous criminals.

Several key constitutional rights will be suspended and the Guatemalan forces will get greater powers of arrest and questioning as they continue the search for more than 60 inmates still at large.


Restricting guarantees is no way to fight organized crime ... in a democratic country

Guatemalan rights group
Mr Portillo said the state of alarm, which requires ratification or rejection by Congress within three days, would only last for up to 30 days, but human rights groups have voiced fears over the measures.

As thousands of police, backed up by soldiers and helicopters, continue to comb the country for the heavily armed convicts, the search has moved to neighbouring countries.

Border alert

The authorities in El Salvador, Honduras and Belize are all on alert and have been provided with details of the murderers, kidnappers, rapists and drug traffickers 13 of whom were on death row.

Police escort prison employees
The directors of the maximum security prison were arrested
The country's biggest jail break in recent times happened on Sunday. One prisoner was killed by the escaping inmates before they took flight, while two others drowned trying to cross a river outside the jail.

Police have detained two officials and 19 guards at the prison for investigation into possible collusion with the escape.

Only about a dozen of the 78 prisoners have been recaptured.

Increased powers

The state of alarm gives the police the power to detain suspects without warrants and to hold them for up to 30 days without trial or arrest.

It also gives officials other than the police, such as members of the army, the power to stop, search and interrogate.

The prohibition on introducing extra-judicial confessions as evidence in a court has also been temporarily lifted.

Our Central America correspondent says that extending police powers is a sensitive issue for Guatemala where memories are still fresh of abuses committed by the state during the 36-year civil war that ended in 1996.

Despite the government's assurance that the special police powers will only last for 30 days at most, human rights groups are worried that they may be extended.

But our correspondent says that many ordinary Guatemalans, who are increasingly worried about spiralling crime, will welcome the move if it helps the manhunt.

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See also:

18 Jun 01 | Americas
Soldiers join jailbreak manhunt
15 Apr 01 | Americas
Bloody end to Brazil jail siege
29 Mar 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Guatemala
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