Saturday, January 26, 2013

55 Killed in Venezuelan Prison Riot (UPDATED)

At least fifty people died in a prison riot on Friday in Barquisimeto, Venezuela when armed inmates reportedly fought with National Guard troops.

According to Ruy Medina, a Lara state hospital official interviewed by the AFP, most of the approximately ninety casualties suffered from gunshot wounds.

He called the death toll "alarming," and also noted that fourteen of the injured had wounds severe enough to require surgery.

Penitentiary Service Minister Iris Varela blamed the incident on social networks and several local media outlets including the Globovision TV network.

In a statement issued on state TV, Varela claimed that these outlets reported that a weapons search would take place in the prison and this served as a "spark" for the riot to occur.

A BBC News correspondent said that "prisoners who had heard about the search in advance from news reports were waiting for the National Guard when they arrived."

Opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles pointed his finger at an "uncapable and irresponsible" federal government. He also mentioned how families of some inmates had "desperately" contacted him seeking information about their loved ones.

A 2012 report from the Amnesty International human rights group on Venezuela highlighted that "violence remained endemic in the chronically overcrowded prisons."

Update: On Saturday, Penitentiary Service Minister Iris Varela announced that the Uribana prison will be shut down in the wake of Friday's deadly prison riot.

Among those who will be transferred out are 125 women who were imprisoned in the female-only wing of Uribana.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro called the violence of Friday's riot "tragic" and said authorities have launched an investigation.

"The prisons have to be governed by law," said Maduro who has stood in for an ailing President Hugo Chavez for over six weeks.

A report in USA TODAY claimed that in 2012 "the Uribana prison reportedly held gladiatorial contests, fights organized by gang leaders in which contenders battled to the bloody end for the entertainment of inmates, according to local media reports. It was one of these bouts that left two dead and 128 injured in February at the site."bUnofficially at least 55 people were killed and 90 others wounded in this latest incident of violence in Venezuelan prisons.n prisons.

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