Venezuela families occupy Yare prison in protest

Inmate in a cell in an unidentified Venezuelan prison The Venezuelan government has promised to reform the prison system

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Almost 1,000 relatives of prisoners in Venezuela have refused to leave a jail in protest at the conditions there.

The relatives - mostly women - stayed on in Yare prison near Caracas after spending the new year's holiday with their jailed relatives.

They are protesting against alleged abuses and delays in sentencing.

Prisons minister Iris Varela says the protesters have "kidnapped themselves" - but she is negotiating to end the stand off.

"This is not the way to apply pressure," she said.

Ms Varela also accused campaign groups that have criticised conditions inside Venezuela's prisons of being "financed by the CIA".

Venezuela's jails are notoriously violent and overcrowded.

President Hugo Chavez created the ministry of prisons last July to reform the system after a major uprising at El Rodeo jail outside Caracas.

An estimated 300 prisoners are killed inside prisons in Venezuela each year, according to human rights groups.

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