Dozens of people have been killed in a riot in a prison on the outskirts of Quito, Ecuador’s interior minister has said.
Thomas Cornejo said the dead were prisoners and a guard in the El Rodeo jail, and said up to 50 inmates had escaped during the melee.
Local television reports said more than 70 people had been killed. A representative of the prison’s management body told local radio that the figure was much lower.
Speaking at a news conference on Friday, Cornejo said 35 inmates were still being held hostage by other prisoners and an investigation was under way. He said that many of the dead could have been suffocated.
There were similarities to recent mass killings in Argentina and other countries in South America, though Cornejo said Quito had not yet established whether the attack was politically motivated. The commissioner of the national police, Alberto Salazar, said the guards were trying to negotiate the terms of their surrender when the violence erupted, causing more casualties.
The local Red Cross said that it had moved 45 wounded prisoners to a hospital in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s biggest city, and was evacuating nine other victims to other facilities.
Prison riots are not uncommon in the country, and Cornejo said it was the most violent incident at El Rodeo since the establishment of the corrections service in 1973.
Guards had tried to calm the situation after Friday morning’s violence, and had tried to use a hot water sprinkler to evict the inmates from their cells, but it broke off in the afternoon.
Riots and other riots are common in prisons across Latin America.