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Ecuador jail fight: Dozens of inmates killed in gang war

image copyrightEPA

image captionInmates could be seen on the roof of El Turi jail in Cuenca

At least 79 inmates have been killed in simultaneous fights in four jails in Ecuador, one of the deadliest incidents in the country’s prisons in years.

The military and riot police have been deployed in an effort to quell the violence, which started on Tuesday.

Experts say the fights were prompted by a battle for control of the jails after a gang leader was killed in December.

The number of dead is higher than the total of inmates killed in 2019 and 2020 combined.

Early on Wednesday local time, prison authorities said the situation was now “under control”.

They updated the number of dead and said the violence had also engulfed a fourth jail.

The deadliest incident happened in Turi prison, in the city of Cuenca, where 34 were killed. There were also fatalities in two prisons in the city of Guayaquil and in a jail in Latacunga. All of those killed were inmates, officials said.

image copyrightEPA

image captionRelatives of inmates gathered outside Guayaquil’s jail in the hope of getting any news

The first reports of fights came in at about 09:00 local time (15:00 GMT) on Tuesday.

Mr Moncayo said tension had been running high since the killing in December of Jorge Luis Zambrano, the leader of the Choneros gang.

Zambrano, alias Itch, was shot dead in a cafeteria just months after being released from jail.

During his time in prison, he and his gang ran a lucrative smuggling, drug dealing and extortion ring which mainly – but not exclusively – operates inside Ecuador’s jails.

image copyrightReuters

image captionTroops have been deployed to help quell the violence

Tuesday’s deadly fights are thought to have been over who should replace Zambrano and were said to have been planned and highly organised, according to Interior Minister Patricio Pazmiño.

Over the past two years, the government has twice declared emergency measures in Ecuador’s jails – in May 2019, when 10 inmates were killed within weeks, and in August 2020, when a key witness in a corruption case was murdered inside his cell.

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media captionEcuadorean journalist Blanca Moncada was on the front line of the Covid-19 crisis in her home town of Guayaquil

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