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Rioting Inmates Set Fire to Venezuela Prison; 100 Killed

January 04, 1994|From Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela — Inmates shot and stabbed one another and set fire to a vastly overcrowded prison in western Venezuela on Monday. At least 100 people reportedly died in the riot.

The melee at the National Jail of Maracaibo was reportedly subdued after about four hours, said police in Maracaibo, 440 miles west of Caracas. Authorities said they did not know what set off the riot.

Television news footage showed bloody, moaning prisoners being led from the jail or carried out on stretchers. In the background were armed, helmeted soldiers and drifting smoke from burning buildings.

The national news agency Venpres put the death toll at 100 or more. Ortis Torres, a duty officer for the National Guard that quelled the riot, estimated 150 deaths but said the death toll could change because bodies were still being pulled out.

It was not immediately known if any guards or other prison workers were among the casualties. Phone calls placed to city hospitals, the morgue and the jail were unanswered and spokesmen for the National Guard and local firefighters declined comment.

"We've got five bodies here, and there's another 40 to 50" at a police station waiting to be identified, a doctor at the local morgue, Nelson Bonilla, said via telephone.

Tallies for the wounded ranged from 50 to 200.

Many prisoners were transferred to other jails, the governor of Zulia state, Lolita Aniyar de Castro, told reporters.

The prison was built to hold 800 inmates but has about 3,000, according to the Maracaibo newspaper Panorama.

At least one prisoner dies each week in Venezuela's 33-prison system. The jails are overcrowded, are rife with drug use and do not separate prisoners according to the severity of their crimes.

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