Two criminal organizations run by the Mara 18 and Mara Salvatrucha gangs have been dismantled and 34 people arrested in Guatemala, the National Civilian Police, or PNC, said.

The suspected gang members were arrested in a joint operation with army troops and prosecutors in the eastern section of Guatemala City, the PNC press office said in a statement.

The suspects belonged to Mara Salvatrucha's "Peewee Locos" group and Mara 18's "Batos Locos" group, the PNC said.

The criminal organizations have been linked to at least a dozen murders and extortion rackets targeting bus operators and small businesses, the National Civilian Police said.

The gang crackdown, which was carried out on Friday, was the result of a long intelligence operation conducted by police, Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez told reporters.

The areas where the operations were staged are "free of criminals," Lopez said.

The suspects - 11 of whom are women - are charged with conspiracy to commit murder, criminal conspiracy, extortion and other crimes.

Youth gangs are responsible for 22 percent of the average 16 murders a day committed in Guatemala.

Mara 18 and Mara Salvatrucha were originally formed by Salvadorans.

Mara Salvatrucha is a criminal organization that evolved on the streets of Los Angeles during the 1980s, with most of its members young Salvadorans whose parents fled their nation's erstwhile civil war for the United States.

Because many of the gang members were born in El Salvador, they were subject to deportation when rounded up during immigration crackdowns in California in the 1990s.

Sent "home" to a land they barely knew, they formed gangs that spread throughout El Salvador and to neighboring countries in Central America, where membership is now counted in the tens, or even hundreds of thousands, and gang members are engaged in murder, drug dealing, kidnapping and people smuggling.

In addition to those activities, gang members are blamed throughout Central America for a spike in rapes and robberies, and for running protection rackets to extort "taxes" from bus companies and owners of small businesses. EFE