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The BBC's Tom Gibb in Sao Paulo
"The leaders have been co-ordinating the uprising with cell phones"
 real 56k

Carandiro priest Father Guenther
"The military police are continuing to block the transfer of very ill inmates to hospital"
 real 28k

Monday, 19 February, 2001, 07:05 GMT
Eight killed in Brazil prison riots
Brazilian riot police
Riot police have surrounded Carandiru jail
At least eight prisoners have been killed and thousands of people taken hostage during an apparently coordinated wave of prison riots across the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo.

Police said they had quashed rebellions in 10 of the 18 prisons, but the stand-off continued at Carandiru, which holds 8,000 inmates in the city of Sao Paulo.

Carandiru prison
The rebellions appear well co-ordinated
State Security Secretary Marco Vinicio Petrelluzzi said eight inmates had died during the first 10 hours of riots - two of them killed by guards in Carandiru.

The uprising was organised by the criminal group First Commando of the Capital (PCC), apparently in protest at a decision to transfer its 10 top leaders from Carandiru to other prisons on Friday, following a disturbance in which five inmates were killed.

The letters PCC were written in giant letters on prison courtyard walls.

Blood stains

Televised images, filmed from helicopters, showed a number of Carandiru's nine prison blocks ablaze, hundreds of white sheets hanging from windows, and barricades.

At one stage the footage showed prisoners dragging two bodies across a courtyard, leaving trails of blood on the ground.

Mother at Carandiru jail
A mother outside Carandiru prays for her son inside the prison
Some 5,000 people, including more than 1,000 children, are still inside Carandiru half a day after the rebellion began.

Most of the hostages are wives and children who were making their weekly Sunday visits, when family members of inmates are allowed to go to cells for conjugal relations or a meal. Many had chosen to stay the night after they missed their trains home.

Hundreds of other family members have gathered outside Carandiru, some throwing objects at police lined up in front of the main gate.

Reports say that in some jails, when offered the chance to leave, some hostages chose to stay, fearing that if they left the police would use force to retake control and large numbers of inmates could be killed.

Nine years ago, 111 inmates were killed at Carandiru, Latin America's largest prison, when military police stormed the jail after a similar uprising.

Criminal gangs

Security officials are continuing negotiations to release the hostages. The prisoners say they want the military police to retire completely from the jail in return for releasing all the women and children, which the authorities say is unacceptable.

In the smaller Belem prison, also in Sao Paulo, naked prisoners were made to march outside and line up against a wall with their hands behind their necks. Soon afterwards, women with children in their arms were released from the prison.

Justice Minister Jose Gregori, who was in Sao Paulo, said he was flying back Sunday night to Brasilia, confident the situation was under control.

"The situation was worse and remains worrying, but the majority of prisons where there were rebellions are back under control of authorities," he told reporters.

Human rights organisations have long denounced the power of criminal organisations which have special privileges within the prisons.

The PCC has been responsible for a series of murders of other prisoners over recent months, according to people working inside the prisons. There are reports of them having access to cell-phones, allowing them to continue organising criminal activities outside the jail, as well as to co-ordinate prison uprisings.

Prison riots are endemic in Brazil, where inhuman conditions and over-crowding have repeatedly been condemned by human rights group. A congressional commission recently described Brazil's prison system as a "reinvention of hell".

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See also:

19 Dec 00 | Americas
Nine die in Brazil prison riot
17 Aug 00 | Americas
Eleven die in Brazilian prison riot
15 Jun 00 | Americas
Inmates wed in mass ceremony
15 Dec 98 | Americas
Inside Latin America's worst prison
19 Feb 01 | Americas
Brazil's notorious prisons
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