US & Canada

Obama pledges anti-drug funding on El Salvador visit

Barack Obama and Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes
Mr Obama was full of praise for Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes

US President Barack Obama - on a visit to El Salvador - has promised $200m (£122m) to fight drug trafficking and gang violence in Central America.

Mr Obama said the programme would tackle the poverty and social factors that drive young people towards crime.

He also promised new measures to boost trade and economic cooperation with the region.

Mr Obama was returning to Washington earlier than scheduled on Wednesday to deal with the crisis in Libya.

He was in El Salvador on the third and final leg of a tour of Latin America that has also taken him to Brazil and Chile.

President Obama announced the new Central American Citizen's Security Partnership after talks with Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes.

He said it would help strengthen courts and the rule of law with support from other nations including Chile, Colombia and Mexico.

Along with neighbouring Honduras and Guatemala, El Salvador is plagued by violence, much of it linked to drug trafficking gangs.

'Old divisions'

The two leaders also discussed immigration.

Mr Obama praised the contribution of around two million Salvadorans who live and work in the US, and reiterated his support for comprehensive immigration reform.

He also commended Mr Funes for his "courageous work to overcome old divisions in Salvadoran society" and for his vision of economic growth and social progress.

"The US wants to be a partner in this process," he said. "We want El Salvador to be successful."

The US president later toured the National Cathedral in the capital, San Salvador, and visited the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

An outspoken advocate for the poor and backer of political reform, the archbishop was assassinated in March 1980 after celebrating Mass.

The killing came at the start of a 12-year internal conflict between a US-backed military government and left-wing rebels in which around 75,000 people died.

Mr Funes, who was elected in 2009, is a leader of the former rebel movement, the FMLN.

But despite his left-wing roots, he does not share the suspicion and hostility towards US "imperialism" expressed by Latin American leftists such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

In Chile on Monday, Mr Obama called for a "new era of partnership" with Latin America, and stressed the region's importance to the US, but his tour has been overshadowed by the US-led military action in Libya.

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