Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela jail closed after more than 60 died in riot

Women check the list of those killed in a prison riot at Uribana jail.
Image caption Without official confirmation of the number of dead, relatives checked the list of deceased hung up at the local morgue.

Venezuelan prison minister Iris Varela has announced the closure of the jail where more than 60 people died in a riot on Friday.

Ms Varela said the female wing of the Uribana prison near the city of Barquisimeto had already been cleared.

She also called on male inmates to stop rioting.

Violence between rival gangs is common in Venezuela's overcrowded jails. More than 300 people were killed in 2012, according to a local rights group.

Gang warfare

Ms Varela did not say how many people had died in the riot, but a hospital director Ruy Medina said he had counted 61 bodies in the morgue.

Earlier, local media had reported that the security forces were still not in full control of the prison.

Mr Medina, the director of the Hospital Central Antonio Maria Pineda, said 120 people had been injured.

Ms Varela said officials had decided to clear the prison of all inmates to "close this chapter of violence".

She said soldiers had been sent to the prison to search prisoners for weapons after reports that rival gangs were preparing for a fight.

Image caption Members of the National Guard were sent into Uribana to seize weapons held by the inmates

According to Ms Varela, the prisoners were alerted to the impending raid by news reports and lay in wait for the National Guard, attacking them as they entered the Uribana penitentiary.

She said most of the victims had been killed with home-made weapons and rudimentary knives.

However, Mr Medina had earlier said many of the bodies at his hospital's morgue had gunshot wounds.

Vice-President Nicolas Maduro said there would be a thorough investigation into the riot, led by Venezuela's Prosecutor General and the President of the National Assembly.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles blamed the violence on "incompetent and irresponsible government".

Venezuelan human rights activist Carlos Nieto Palma told BBC Mundo Uribana prison was among the most dangerous in the country and suffered from overcrowding.

There has been a series of deadly prison riots in Venezuela.

Last year, the security forces took almost three weeks to regain control of La Planta prison in the capital, Caracas, after inmates rioted in protest at a planned transfer to another jail.

The prisoners said they feared for their lives if they were moved to other already overcrowded jails.

According to the non-governmental Venezuelan Prisons Observatory (VPO), in 2012 more than 50,000 inmates were housed in prisons built to hold 14,000.

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