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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 February, 2004, 23:55 GMT
Ecuador prisoners take hostages
Prisoners receive food aid during protest
Inmates are getting food from the Red Cross
Hundreds of people including dozens of children are being held hostage in a prison in Ecuador.

Inmates at Garcia Moreno in the capital Quito have been holding the hostages - many of them female relatives visiting the jail - since Sunday.

The prisoners want a meeting with the government to demand better prison conditions and an end to overcrowding.

The prison was designed to hold 400 people but houses about 1,100 and lacks basic services like running water.

Last month, the government declared a state of emergency in the prison system and vowed to ease overcrowding by building new facilities.

Interior Minister Raul Baca has said that three new jails for up to 800 inmates will be built.

Threats

The hostages - said to include 270 women, 50 men and 40 children - apparently joined a protest at the jail on Sunday.

We hope that the situation doesn't get out of hand, although that depends on the inmates
Mentor Alban
Prison director

But prison director Mentor Alban told the Associated Press news agency that the inmates had welded shut the doors leading to the cellblocks to prevent the hostages from getting out.

Reports said the prisoners were threatening to blow up three propane tanks if the government did not meet their demands.

"We have tried to communicate with the inmates, but they have refused to listen," Mr Alban said.

The prisoners were receiving food and visits from Red Cross workers, he said.

He added that he wanted to avoid sending in special police.

"We hope that the situation doesn't get out of hand, although that depends on the inmates," he said.

The government declared a state of emergency in the prison system on 15 January after a series of protests.


SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Ecuador
26 Nov 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Ecuador
02 Jan 04  |  Country profiles


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