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Last Updated: Monday, 7 March, 2005, 20:20 GMT
Dominican prison fire 'kills 134'
Relatives surround the bodies of the dead inmates
The fire spread rapidly as inmates set fire to their bedding
At least 134 inmates have been killed after a prison riot led to a fire in the Dominican Republic, officials say.

They said clashes between rival gangs in the prison in the eastern town of Higuey began late on Sunday night.

The fighting apparently over who controls the sale of cigarettes and drugs was broken up, but later inmates began rioting and started the fire.

It was the deadliest prison blaze in the history of the Dominican Republic, where prisons are often overcrowded.

'Bodies piled up'

The blaze spread rapidly as inmates set fire to their bedding just after midnight, officials said.

Feb 2005 - five inmates die in a gang fight in Lurigancho, Peru
Aug 2004 - 31 inmates killed in clashes in La Esperanza, El Salvador
May 2004 - 34 prisoners die in a riot in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
May 2004 - 103 inmates killed in a riot in San Pedro Sula, Honduras
Apr 2003 - 69 people die in clashes at El Porvenir, Honduras
Sept 2002 - 28 inmates die in a fire and a riot in La Vega, Dominican Republic

Firefighters were unable to bring the fire under control and had to call for reinforcements from the neighbouring states.

Rescue efforts had been hampered by a blocked door to the main cellblock as rival gangs battled for control of the lucrative sale of drugs and cigarettes, officials said.

"When we arrived, the door was blocked with the rubble from mattresses and wood beds the prisoners had used to seal the exit shut," Nestor Vera, chief of the firefighters in Higuey, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

Mr Vera added that bodies were "piled up on top of each other" inside the cellblock.

By midday, 133 bodies had been pulled out from the public jail in Higuey, about 120km (75 miles) from the capital, Santo Domingo, officials said.

They said more than 20 inmates had been rescued.

Army helicopters were ferrying the wounded to hospitals in Santo Domingo, national prison chief Juan Ramon de la Cruz Martinez said.

In 2002, at least 28 inmates were killed when fire started during a riot at a jail in the northern city of La Vega.

Deadly prison riots have plagued several countries across the region, where inmates are often crowded into poorly-equipped prisons.

Desperate scenes after the fatal prison fire


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