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Venezuela prison battle leaves 25 dead

world Updated: Aug 22, 2012 09:51 IST
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Twenty-five people were killed and 43 others hurt in a prison battle in Venezuela as two armed gangs vied for control of a penitentiary near Caracas, authorities said.

One of the dead was a visiting relative while the 24 others were prisoners, some of whom were shot in the face at point-blank range during clashes on Sunday in the Yare I prison, said minister for prison affairs Iris Varela on Monday.

The facility was back under control on Monday after the latest bout of violence in Venezuela's overcrowded prison system, where an estimated 300 people have been killed in 2012.

Hundreds of family members were visiting inmates when the violence broke out on Sunday. Some 900 women were still inside the prison on Monday, apparently to protect their jailed relatives.

Seventeen of the dead have been identified but fingerprints need to be taken to name the rest because those with gunshot wounds to the face could not be identified, Varela said.

Varela said the clashes -- which left 29 prisoners and 14 visiting relatives injured -- erupted after a shot was fired during a "discussion" between leaders of two factions in the prison, though the initial shot did not hit anyone.

"It was the spark that lit the fire," she said.

"Those responsible for the deaths within the prisons must answer for them," she said yesterday, adding that fighting was instigated by inmates "who want to maintain control through force."

Local media said the uprising may have been started by prisoners who had been transferred to Yare I from La Planta, a notoriously violent and overcrowded prison in Caracas that was closed after a weeks-long uprising in May.

The head of the non-governmental Venezuelan Prison Observatory, Humberto Prado, said that scenario was possible, because the arrival "of a large number of prisoners from La Planta increased overcrowding and tension" at Yare I.

Yare I, where President Hugo Chavez was detained after he led a failed coup in 1992, was built to hold 750 people, less than a quarter of the current 3,150 people currently detained there, Prado noted.

The government does not issue regular reports on conditions in Venezuelan prisons and does not confirm most violent incidents.