The body of a prisoner appears surrounded by police on the roof of the Litoral penitentiary in Guayaquil. AP
A prolonged gun battle between rival gangs inside Ecuador’s largest prison early on Saturday that left at least 68 dead in the same prison where a riot in September claimed 119 lives, officials said Saturday.
It's the latest violence to hit the Litoral Penitentiary, which recently saw the country’s worst prison bloodbath.
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Authorities said late on Saturday they had re-gained control of the prison in Guayaquil for a second time in as many days after President Guillermo Lasso's spokesman said fighting had again broken out earlier in the day between inmates from rival gangs tied to drug trafficking rings.
The fighting lasted for almost eight hours in the lockup in the coastal city of Guayaquil and authorities attributed the fighting to prison gangs linked to international drug cartels. Videos circulating on social media showed bodies, some burned, lying on the ground inside the prison.
Members of the Ecuadorian police remove the body of an inmate from the roof of a pavilion in Guayaquil. AFP
In the initial riot that began Friday night prisoners fought with "savagery," said Pablo Arosemena, governor of the province of Guayas where the prison is located.
The riot began around 7:00 pm Friday when prisoners tried to enter Block 2 of the jail where their rivals were held, firing gunshots, detonating explosives and swinging machetes, and prompting police to move in.
At least 68 prisoners were killed and another 25 were wounded, according a statement which the Ecuador Prosecutor's Office posted on Twitter.
Inmates "tried to dynamite a wall to get into pavilion 2 to carry out a massacre. They also burned mattresses to try to to drown (their rivals) in smoke,” said Gov. Pablo Arosemena of Guayas province where Guayaquil is located.
"We are fighting against drug trafficking,” Arosemena said. "It is very hard.”
People gather outside the judicial police station after prisoners were killed and injured in Guayaquil. Reuters
Earlier Saturday, police officers in riot gear were seen climbing up the blood-stained prison walls, while the body of an inmate in an orange prison jumpsuit lay on the roof of the jail encircled by barbed wire.
Images posted on social networks, whose authenticity has not been confirmed by the authorities, showed a pile of bodies in a night-time prison courtyard being consumed by flames while inmates standing nearby beat the bodies with sticks.
In another video, a prisoner from the block that was being attacked says, "We are locked in our pavilion. They want to kill us all."
"Please share this video. Please help us!" the inmate implores, as repeated bangs are heard in the background.
Dozens of people gathered outside the prison gates Saturday morning, fainting or weeping as they tried to learn the fate of their loved ones inside.
People react outside the judicial police station in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on Saturday. Reuters
"They are human beings, help them," read a banner held by one of the families, kept back by a deployment of police and soldiers supported by an armoured car.
A group of women with one cell phone shouted prisoners' names to an inmate who was inside the prison and on the line, hoping to know if those men were still alive.
"Here there are relatives from block two and they need to know about the boys," the woman holding the phone said.
A crackly voice was heard from the phone but the signal was spotty and then there was just silence.
Investigators found 15 vehicles that apparently belonged to the victims, one of which bore stickers with the logo of a criminal gang. Prosecutors said drug cartels and other criminal gangs had been fighting in the area.
Inmates with facial injuries were taken by truck and ambulance to medical facilities while family members of those incarcerated gathered at the prison looking for information, AFP reporters at the scene said.
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