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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 March, 2005, 10:32 GMT
Inquiry into Dominican jail fire
Inmates in the gutted prison in Higuey, the Dominican Republic
Human rights officials had protested about conditions in the public jail
The government of the Dominican Republic has promised to investigate the cause of a fire at a prison which killed at least 133 inmates.

The interior minister told the BBC a panel would meet on Tuesday to look at events which led to the fire and ways of reforming the prison system.

Police say Monday's fire broke out in the jail in the eastern city of Higuey following clashes between rival gangs.

It was the deadliest prison blaze in the history of the Caribbean country.

Correspondents say the government is under pressure to improve conditions in the prisons, many of which are over-crowded and controlled by gangs of jailed drug traffickers.

'Hell on earth'

Police said Sunday night's fighting was broken up by guards, but later many prisoners began to riot and set fire to their bedding.

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
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 blaze 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.

Bodies were "piled up on top of each other" inside the cellblock, Nestor Vera, chief of the firefighters in Higuey, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

Dozens were injured in the blaze at the public jail in Higuey, about 120km (75 miles) from the capital, Santo Domingo.

Domingo Porfirio Rojas-Nina of the Dominican National Human Rights Commission said he has been complaining for six years that the jail "is the worst in the country".

"It is hell on earth. It is unfit for human beings," he said, quoted by Reuters news agency.

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

Dominican prison fire 'kills 134'
07 Mar 05 |  Americas
Country profile: Dominican Republic
09 Dec 04 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Dominican Republic
08 Mar 05 |  Country profiles

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