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Last Updated: Friday, 24 June, 2005, 17:57 GMT 18:57 UK
Ecuador responds to jail protests
Policeman watches protests in a jail in Quito, Ecuador
Police have stayed away from the protests, fearing violence
Ecuador's government says it is trying to address the demands of jail inmates who have begun mutilating themselves to protest at their conditions.

Interior Minister Mauricio Gandara told the BBC efforts would be made to move inmates to less crowded jails and to improve their diet.

But, he said, only Congress could make long-term changes to the penal system.

A prisoner was voluntarily crucified for a short time and two women stitched their lips shut during the protests.

Hundreds of other inmates in Ecuador's 34 jails have been protesting since Monday over sentencing and conditions.

They want electricity, running water and early release for good behaviour.

Today there have been crucifixions - tomorrow there will be something worse

Television stations in Ecuador showed pictures of a man being nailed to a wooden cross by fellow protesters.

He grimaced in pain as he hung from the structure for several minutes, before being hauled down and given medical help.

National strike

In the women's wing of the Litoral prison, in Ecuador's second city of Guayaquil, two women were reported to have sewn their lips up with black thread to mark their hunger strike.

Several other women cut themselves and used their blood to write placards calling for prison reforms while two others were buried up to their necks in a prison yard, the Associated Press reported.

Inmates in Ecuador's 34 prisons began a co-ordinated hunger strike on Monday.

The protesters are calling for improvements to the infrastructure of the country's overcrowded prisons - most of which lack electricity or running water in the cells - and the re-instatement of an programme of early release for good behaviour, overturned in 2001.

"Today there have been crucifixions. Tomorrow there will be something worse," a prisoner told the Reuters news agency.

Protests and riots in Ecuadorean prisons last year led to several deaths.

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