Hundreds of Venezuelan troops are trying to regain control of a large prison east of Caracas where thousands of armed inmates have been holding them off for a week.
Since June 12, 24 people have been killed at the El Rodeo prison in Guatire, east of the capital – 21 prisoners, one visitor and two national guardsmen who stormed the complex Friday and died in a gun battle.
Authorities say they have control of about three quarters of the facility. They sent in more national guard units to maintain control of most of the prison, and to disperse angry crowds outside that have demanded more action by the government to protect their friends and relatives inside the prison.
Smoke has been coming from a portion of the prison, Rodeo One, and gunfire has echoed through the cellblocks. The complex holds more than 5,000 prisoners, far more than it was designed to house.
Although troops failed to gain full control of the prison Friday, authorities said they recovered large quantities of weapons – rifles, shotguns, pistols and grenades – plus drugs and more than 100 cellphones.
National guard units used tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters Friday. Many of the prisoners in the secured sections were moved to other locations over the weekend.
Violence has broken out in Venezuela’s crowded prisons many times in recent years. During the first three months of this year alone, human-rights groups say more than 120 prisoners have been killed in such incidents.