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QUITO, Feb 24 — Ecuador yesterday raised the death toll from riots in four jails to 79, including 18 prisoners who were found dismembered at one site, and said authorities had regained control following one of the bloodiest outbreaks of prison violence in its history.
Police and troops were stationed at detention centres in the cities of Guayaquil, Cuenca and Latacunga, where gangs on Tuesday fought one another with handmade weapons in what authorities said was a coordinated outbreak of violence.
The gangs began a battle for leadership within the prison system in December when a leader of Los Choneros, considered the system’s most powerful gang, was killed in a shopping centre several months after being released.
Several of Tuesday’s confrontations took place in maximum security areas of the Guayaquil and Cuenca prisons.
Prison authority SNAI said all those killed in the rioting were prisoners. A further dozen inmates and police were injured, according to official data.
“Thanks to the actions carried out between this institution and the National Police, the situation ... is under control,” it added in a statement.
Ecuador’s prosecutor’s office started an investigation into the violence, saying in a statement it had found 18 dismembered bodies in one of the prisons.
Inmates’ relatives remained outside the prisons yesterday hoping for information about their loved ones.
In a televised address, President Lenin Moreno acknowledged the prison system was overpopulated by around 30 per cent and lacked sufficient funding and personnel.
The riots took place after authorities dismantled cocaine processing labouratories and seized 128 tonnes of drugs in 2020, a record for the Andean country, Moreno said.
“What happened yesterday is not causal, it was organised from outside the prisons and internally orchestrated by those who dispute leadership and drug trafficking throughout the national territory,” Moreno said. “What happened yesterday is not a coincidence, it is a consequence,” he said, adding he would seek international help in the country’s fight against organised crime.
Moreno declared Ecuador’s prison system in a state of emergency in 2019 after a wave of incidents that killed 24. — Reuters
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