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Venezuela prison fire: Grieving families teargassed by police after 68 people killed in blaze


At least 68 people have been killed by afire that swept through jails cellsafter prisoners rioted at aVenezuelan police station.

Police fired tear gas on inmates distraught relatives as they gathered outside Carabobostate police headquarters in Valencia to demand information.

The countrys chief prosecutor, attorney general Tarek William Saab, said nearly all the dead were prisoners.

Rescue teams were forced to break a hole through a wall to free some of those inside.

Two women staying overnight at the station were also killed by Wednesdays fire, which reportedly started when detainees torched mattresses in an attempted break-out.

Prisoners families clashed with officers outside after being refused details of casualties for hours following the blaze. Local officials would initially only confirm there had been an unspecified number of fatalities and said they would not provide any estimates out of respect for the families.

Weeping relatives feared the worst as theywaited outside the station, about 100 miles west of the capital Caracas. They said dozens of detainees had been kept in squalid conditions.

I dont know if my son is dead or alive, cried AidaParra, who said she had taken her imprisoned son food the previous day. They havent told me anything.

Late in the day Mr Saab confirmed the death toll, whichmakes the fire one of the deadliest jail disasters in a country where human rights groups regularlycomplain about thepoor state ofprisons.

Caraboboauthorities declared a state of mourning across the state.

A Window to Freedom, a non-profit group that monitors conditions at Venezuelas prisons, said the riot was believed to have begun when an armed inmate shot an officer in the leg. A fire broke out soon after, with flames growing quickly as the blaze spread to mattresses in the cells.

Pictures showed badly burned victims being taken out on stretchers to ambulances waiting outside.

Carlos Nieto Palma, director of A Window to Freedom, said officials should be held accountable for failing to address the poor conditions in police station jails. The group said overcrowding was common throughout Venezuela, with detainees kept in custody at police stations for lengthy spells before being freed or sent to larger jails to await trial.

Its grave and alarming, Mr Nieto Palma said. What happened today in Carabobo is a sign of that.

Opposition lawmaker Juan Miguel Matheus demanded the pro-government leader of Carabobo state informed relatives about what happened.

The desperation of relatives should not be played with, he said.

Clashes between prisoners and guards are common in Venezuela. Inmates are frequently able to obtain weapons and drugs with the help of corrupt guards and heavily armed groups control cell block territories.

A fire at a prison in the western state ofZuliakilled more than 100 inmates in 1994.

Additional reporting by agencies



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