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Venezuela jail ´massacre´ kills 37

CARACAS: Relatives waited Thursday to recover the bodies of loved ones killed in a Venezuela jail riot that left at least 37 people dead in what the local governor called a “massacre.”

The prosecutors´ office said an investigation had been launched into “the deaths of 37 people” in the facility in the remote town of Puerto Ayacucho in Venezuela´s southern state of Amazonas.

Governor Liborio Guarulla earlier tweeted that a “massacre” took place.

“The bodies are piled up in the morgue” of a local hospital.

“The families are waiting for the interior and justice ministry to identify the victims and hand over their remains.”

Worst ´preventative´ prison riot

Prosecutors said 14 officials were wounded in the violence which ran from Tuesday into early Wednesday, but did not say if any were among the dead.

Two prison-monitoring groups, A Window to Freedom and the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory, said the 37 killed were all inmates.

“This is the worst riot we´ve had in a preventative detention facility.

“In this one, detainees are only supposed to be held for up to 48 hours, but there were prisoners who have been there for years,” he said.

The jail was holding more than 100 prisoners at the time of the riot, Guarulla said.

He said 61 were transferred to other jails after the violence, while one escaped in the chaos.

Rash of riots

A series of gruesome riots have erupted in overcrowded jails across Latin America in recent years.

Scores of prisoners died in gang battles in Brazilian jails last year, some of them beheaded and set on fire by rival inmates.

The deadliest prison riot in Venezuela was in 2013, when 60 people died and more than 150 were wounded in a facility in Uribana, in the western state of Lara.

At the end of last year, the country had 88,000 detainees, more than double the official holding capacity of 35,000 places, according to A Window to Freedom.

Some 33,000 convicted prisoners were being kept in preventative centers like the one in Puerto Ayacucho, alongside people awaiting trial, Nieto said.

Government blames opposition governor

Guarulla is an opponent of the ruling party of socialist President Nicolas Maduro, who is resisting opposition calls to quit in a deadly political crisis.

Maduro´s Interior Minister Nestor Reverol held Guarulla responsible for the prison violence.

“It is a police facility under the custody and administration of the Amazonas governorship,” Reverol said.

A severe economic crisis has left Venezuelan hospitals and other public services short of resources as well as fueling violent crime.

Months of protests against Maduro have left nearly 130 people dead across the country, fanning international calls for Maduro to respect democracy and hold elections.

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Azhar Hashmi

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