At least 68 inmates have been killed in another gruesome prison massacre in Ecuador, despite the government declaring a state of emergency following an earlier riot and sending heavily armed police officers into jails to restore calm.</p>
The latest killings happened in the same prison — in the port city of Guayaquil — where 119 inmates died in September during brutal clashes between rival gangs. That was the worst jail massacre in the country’s history.
Another 79 prisoners died in a similar clash in February and 22 in July.
The authorities have blamed the successive killings on a battle between rival gangs to control drug-trafficking routes. Ecuador is sandwiched between Colombia and Peru, the world’s two biggest producers of cocaine, and Guayaquil is a known exit route for drugs.
The government says the feud was initially sparked by the murder of a gang leader in December last year.
The latest clashes began on Friday night when prisoners tried to move from one part of the jail to another, using explosives and firing weapons.
One photo from outside the jail on Saturday showed police officers scaling a bloodstained prison wall towards the roof, while the body of a prisoner in an orange jumpsuit lay slumped.
In the days after the September clashes, police officers stormed the Guayaquil jail and brought it back under control. President Guillermo Lasso declared a six-week nationwide state of emergency to crack down on crime.
The latest massacre is likely to heap more pressure on him to do more to deal with problems in the country’s jails, which are overcrowded and where sanitary conditions are often poor.
In a tweet on Saturday, Lasso said the state needed “suitable constitutional tools to protect the population, regain order in prisons and fight the mafias that profit from chaos”.
The attorney-general’s office issued a statement calling for “urgent measures from various state institutions” to address the crisis. It said 40 per cent of inmates in Ecuadorean jails had not been sentenced and it urged magistrates to consider alternatives to preventive custody to ease overcrowding.
Lasso, a millionaire former banker who came to power in May, is already on the back foot after being named in the Pandora Papers over his offshore investments. He is under investigation by both the attorney-general and congress, which could try to impeach him.
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