Venezuela rivals trade blame after jail shootout kills 37

Thursday, August 17, 2017

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AFP) – Venezuelan political rivals traded blame on Thursday for a gun and grenade battle in which 37 people were killed when security forces stormed a jailhouse.

The governor of Amazonas province, Liborio Guarulla, accused state forces of committing a "massacre" when they raided the jail to search for weapons.

But President Nicolas Maduro's government held Guarulla, an opponent of the ruling Socialist party, responsible for the violence, alleging that heavily-armed prisoners had fired at the forces when they entered.

Desperate relatives meanwhile rallied at a hospital in the town, yelling for officials to release the bodies of their loved ones.

"They are starting to smell. Please, have pity and hand over the bodies of our dead," said one woman, Laure Fernandez, in a video filmed at the scene.

The bloodshed erupted overnight Tuesday to Wednesday in a court holding facility in the remote town of Puerto Ayacucho, near the Colombian and Brazilian borders.

The prosecutors' office said an investigation had been launched into "the deaths of 37 people."

Two prison monitoring groups, A Window to Freedom and the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory, said the 37 killed were all inmates.

"This is the worst riot we've had in a preventative detention facility," Carlos Nieto of A Window to Freedom told AFP.

"In this one, detainees are only supposed to be held for up to 48 hours, but there were prisoners who have been there for years," he said.

The jail was holding more than 100 prisoners at the time of the riot, Guarulla said.

Jackson Sanz, the father of one of those killed, called on Maduro -- who is resisting Opposition calls to quit amid a deadly political crisis -- to "take responsibility for this massacre."

Guarulla said the raid had been ordered because it was suspected prisoners may be armed.

He said special forces entered the jail with excessive force, throwing grenades and using high-powered firearms.

"The result was a real massacre," he said.

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