Latin America & Caribbean

Coronavirus: At least 23 killed in Colombia prison unrest

A guard at La Modelo jail in Bogota Image copyright EPA
Image caption Prisons across the country had been holding protests against poor health services and overcrowding

At least 23 people have died in one of Bogotá's largest jails after what the authorities are calling a mass breakout attempt amid rising tensions over coronavirus.

Colombia's Justice Minister Margarita Cabello said 83 inmates were injured during a riot at La Modelo prison.

Inmates at prisons across the country held protests on Sunday against overcrowding and poor health services during the coronavirus outbreak.

The justice ministry is investigating.

Ms Cabello said 32 prisoners and seven guards were in hospital. Two guards are in a critical condition.

She said the violence was a coordinated plan with disturbances reported across 13 of the country's prisons.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption More than 23 people were killed and 83 inmates were injured at La Modelo prison

Denying claims of unsanitary conditions amid fears of a coronavirus breakout, she said: "There is not any sanitary problem that would have caused this plan and these riots.

"There is not one infection nor any prisoner or custodial or administrative staffer who has coronavirus."

She said prisoners had run amok and some would be charged with attempted murder, and damage to property.

A large number of relatives gathered outside the gates of La Modelo prison to await news of their loved ones. They said they had heard of shots being fired after the security forces arrived.

Videos posted to social media showed inmates setting fire to mattresses.

The country's 132 prisons have an 81,000-inmate capacity but house more than 121,000 prisoners, according to figures from the justice ministry.

So far, there have been 231 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Colombia and two people have died.

The country is set to begin a nationwide quarantine from Tuesday which is expected to last 19 days. It will restrict residents' movements with the exception of medical staff, security forces and pharmacy and supermarket staff.

People over the age of 70 have been told to stay indoors until the end of May.

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