Reuters International

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - El Salvador's Congress approved on Friday a series of measures to regain control of its prisons and stem a tide of gang warfare that has made the country one of the most violent in the world.

Congress unanimously approved 14 measures to suspend hearings, restrict movement in prisons, ban visits for one year and concentrate gang members in certain penitentiaries.

The legislature also authorized the government to impose sanctions on telecommunication firms that do not block cell phone signals inside prisons, where gang members give orders to kill, extort or sell drugs.

The measures will be implemented in seven prisons in the Central American country where gang members are concentrated.

Gang violence fuelled a 70 percent jump in El Salvador's murder rate last year, putting it into contention to overtake Honduras as the world's most murderous nation.

Worse followed: In the first two months of the year, homicides were up 118 percent.

Spokesmen for the gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and its rival Barrio 18 said they would reduce homicides if the government did not go ahead with the measures, but authorities said they would not negotiate with them.

(Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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 Reuters International