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Fed-up Ecuadoreans granted their president more powers to crack down on crime – including the deployment of troops on the streets – in a referendum Sunday that underscores the desperation in the country that is battered by gang violence, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Early returns showed that at least 65 percent of Ecuadoreans approved measures allowing the government to deploy the army along with the police to keep order on the streets, increase sentences for those convicted of terrorism or drug trafficking, and let law enforcement use weapons confiscated from gangs.

With overwhelming support for his anti-gang policies, President Daniel Noboa pledged to “restore peace to Ecuadorean families.”

Noboa, who took over the presidency in November after President Guillermo Lasso resigned, pledged to get the country back on track: Criminal gangs have terrorized the once-stable country over the past few years, killing political candidates and derailing the economy.

Noboa instituted a state of emergency shortly after taking office last year after the country saw its highest-ever number of homicides.

In the past few months, gangs have escalated their terrorizing of civilians, carrying out attacks in malls and hospitals and invading a television studio.

In the past week, two mayors and a prison director were killed, CNN reported.

Ecuador was once known as an “island of peace,” although nestled between the world’s two largest cocaine producers, Peru and Colombia. But the country’s deep ports have made it a key transit point for cocaine making its way to consumers in the United States and Europe. Rival criminal organizations are locked in a battle to control these trafficking routes.

The referendum’s outcome allows Noboa to tackle gang violence without needing emergency powers, thanks to policies that analysts said were inspired by El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele. Bukele’s crackdown on crime brought homicide rates down and spiked incarceration rates, amid concerns of human rights abuses.

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