176 police arrested in Honduras over crime links

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A total of 176 police officers from the same unit have been arrested in Honduras for alleged links to organized crime gangs, the Honduran Security Ministry said Thursday.

The mass arrests were made late Wednesday, said ministry spokesman Silvio Inestroza, who added that the suspects had links to criminal groups responsible for a range of crimes including murder, robbery and drug trafficking.

The suspects were from the same unit that employed eight officers suspected to have been involved in the killing of two college students last month, officials said.

The arrests also come amid a joint military-police crackdown this week on violent groups in the main Honduran cities that was launched in the wake of the killings.

Four of the officers involved were freed three days after they were detained, on condition that they return on Sunday - but none of them came back. Four of the other officers remain in custody.

President Porfirio Lobo fired the five most senior police commanders in the wake of the October 22 shooting.

One of the world's most violent countries, Honduras is tipped to have the world's highest murder rate by the end of the year - 86 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the Violence Observatory in Tegucigalpa, a UN-backed monitor.

On average there have been 20 violent deaths a day in 2011, 85 percent of them caused by shootings.

In Honduras, a country slightly larger than Portugal with a population of eight million, violence has soared since a June 2009 coup toppled the country's leftist president. But little has changed under Lobo, who took office in January 2010.

Aside from political violence, Honduras has become a transit point for cocaine from South America heading into the United States.

Drug gangs are better armed than the police, and have cash to bribe law enforcement and politicians.

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