Rioting hits Argentine prison

Inmates hold a guard hostage on the rooftop of San Martin prison while police below try to control the situation in Cordoba province, Argentina, on Thursday.Irma Montiel / La Nacion via AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A riot broke out in a penitentiary housing 2,000 prisoners in central Argentina late Thursday, leaving at least three inmates dead and two dozen guards hostage, authorities said.

Police said negotiations were being conducted early Friday in an attempt to peacefully end the violence. At least two inmates and two members of a prison security detail were seriously injured in the rioting, police said.

Television footage showed rampaging inmates on the prison’s roof wielding homemade knives while holding hostages, including one man in a bloodied shirt. Shots rang out as the rioters cast rocks down at police sheltering behind plastic shields.

Police backed by national guardsmen ringed the maximum-security penitentiary, bidding to regain control as the mutiny continued into the early hours Friday.

Gustavo Vidal Lascano, attorney general of Cordoba province, said three inmates were killed while trying to escape. Television showed images of other inmates who had reportedly been captured while trying to flee.

Vidal also said the prison warden was reported among the hostages and that inmates had seized guns kept in a prison storage room.

Local reports said the violence erupted over inmate demands for better visitation rights and improved living conditions in the San Martin prison, located on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Cordoba, about 450 miles northwest of Buenos Aires.

Cordoba police chief Jorge Rodriguez told Argentina’s Cronica TV that the three deaths had been confirmed but he gave no details.

He said two inmates and two members of a penitentiary guard detail were seriously injured.

Rodriguez also told the Argentine television outlet that negotiations that had sputtered on and off in the first hours of the conflict had resumed early Friday.

“Negotiations have been re-established and there are even a significant number of inmates who wish to surrender,” he said without elaborating.

He added that contacts on the inside of the prison indicated those held hostage remained in good condition.

Asked on Cronica if there had been any successful escapes, he had no comment but said there would be no chance of any inmate escapes, noting that police and national guardsmen had surrounded the complex.

Outside the penitentiary’s chain link fence, relatives shouted to inmates inside before the national guardsmen and militarized police were called in to seal off the area.