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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 April, 2004, 18:53 GMT 19:53 UK
Jail hostage crisis grips Ecuador
A woman is evacuated from Garcia Moreno prison on 17 February 2004
Hostages are rescued during a previous protest in February
Five journalists are among hundreds of people held hostage by prisoners in Ecuador, who are demanding better conditions and shorter sentences.

Inmates at several jails took hostages after being left alone by guards, who went on strike on 22 March.

Armed police officers have been seen outside two prisons.

Ecuador's 33 prisons were built to house 6,000 prisoners, but actually hold 12,600, the AFP news agency reports.

TV news teams from Ecuador's Channel 4 and Channel 10 are being held at the women's prison in Quito.

They had been trying to interview the women inmates about the protest.

Some 130 visitors are also inside the jail - mostly friends and relatives of inmates. It is unclear whether they are being held captive there or are voluntarily joining the protest.

Gas canister

Some 150 visitors are also reported to be inside Garcia Moreno men's prison, also in Quito.

And at a women's prison in Guayaquil, 275km (170 miles) southwest of Quito, inmates are reported to have taken two police officers hostage and tied them up close to a gas canister, which they have threatened to blow up if their demands are not met.

Food is winched down to inmates at Garcia Moreno prison in Quito, Ecuador, on 17 February 2004
Police and relatives are passing down food packages
In total, five people are thought to have been injured during the protests.

Inmates are receiving sporadic food supplies from the government and meals passed to them by police and relatives.

The situation has been complicated by the striking guards outside the prisons, who are trying to prevent anyone exiting or entering, the Associated Press reports.

They are demanding back pay and improvements.

A group of congressman entered the women's jail in Quito to try to negotiate a resolution, but left an hour without success.

After more than 300 people were held hostage at an Ecuadorean prison in February, the government promised to build three new prisons to ease overcrowding, and to release some 1,000 people being held without sentence.

But Mercedes Torres, a leader of the protest at the women's jail in Quito, said the government had made little effort to fulfil their promises.

Ecuador prison hostages released
18 Feb 04  |  Americas
Fifteen hostages freed in Ecuador
18 Feb 04  |  Americas
Ecuador prisoners take hostages
17 Feb 04  |  Americas
Country profile: Ecuador
26 Nov 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Ecuador
02 Jan 04  |  Country profiles

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