61 dead, 120 hurt in Venezuela prison riot

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CARACAS -- The death toll has risen after a bloody prison riot in Venezuela, with a local hospital director saying 61 people have died and 120 were injured.

Ruy Medina, director of Central Hospital in the city of Barquisimeto, said on Saturday that nearly all the injuries in Friday's riot were from gunshots. Medina said that of the 120 who were wounded, 45 remained hospitalized.

The authorities have yet to provide an official death toll and say they have begun to evacuate the prison while investigating.

Penitentiary Service Minister Iris Varela said officials decided to remove all inmates from the Uribana prison after the bloodshed in order to "close this chapter of violence."

Varela said inmates were being taken to other facilities. She spoke in a televised news conference and did not immediately confirm the death toll.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro called the violence tragic and said Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega Diaz and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello would lead the investigation.

"The prisons have to be governed by law," Maduro said on television early Saturday.

Relatives wept outside the prison during the violence, and cried at the morgue Saturday as they waited to identify bodies.

Varela said Friday that the riot broke out when groups of inmates attacked National Guard troops who were attempting to carry out an inspection.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles condemned the government's handling of the country's overcrowded and violent prisons. Humberto Prado, an activist who leads the watchdog group Venezuelan Prisons Observatory, says Uribana prison was built to hold up to 850 inmates but currently has about 1,400.-- AP

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