At least 68 killed in Ecuador prison violence

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Nov. 14 (UPI) — Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso called a “crisis cabinet” after at least 68 inmates were killed in clashes at Litoral Penitentiary.

The president’s office said that 68 people were killed and 25 more were injured on Saturday at the prison in the coastal city of Guayaquil, one of the largest in the country, which has been the site of several recent spates of violence.

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Authorities had identified 34 victims and were working to notify their families as of Sunday afternoon.

Lasso also called on officials from the civil society sector to “organize a dialogue inside the jail and stop the barbarism.”

Ecuadorian police began activating security protocols after reports of gunshots and possible clashes among inmates in the prison, according to Guayas Gov. Pablo Arosemena

In September, at least 118 people were killed in clashes at the prison as regional police commander Fausto Buenano said at least five inmates were decapitated amid violence between rival gang members.

At least 22 inmates were killed in violence in two prisons, including the Litoral Penitentiary, in July and 80 people were killed in prison clashes in February.

Lasso said in July that the country’s prison system was 30% above capacity.

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Arosemena said the rise in violence was a response to a shift in power after a gang leader’s release.

“Other cell blocks with other groups wanted to subdue them, get inside and have a total massacre,” he said in a press conference Saturday.

Lasso on Sunday criticized judges on the nation’s Constitutional Court for restricting the state’s ability to combat the violence in the prisons by limiting a 60-day state of emergency in the prison system he declared at the end of September.

“The state’s fundamental duty is to guarantee the life of citizens, without discrimination. It is a fundamental human right,” he said. “Unfortunately, today that job has been made impossibly by judicial decisions which impose exaggerated restrictions on the coordination between the state security forces to defend life. They do not allow us to defend life.”