Sat, Aug 25, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Brazilian prisoners torch 25 inmates in cell

GANG WARFARE Police said rioting inmates took control of a prison in Minas Gerais state locked up members of an opposing faction and then set cell mattresses on fire


Rioting inmates rounded up rivals in a Brazilian jail cell and torched it, killing 25 prisoners and showing once again how gangs rule the lockups across Latin America's largest nation.

The prisoners took control of the jail before dawn on Thursday in the south-central state of Minas Gerais and chose to settle scores by locking up members of an opposing gang faction in a cell and setting mattresses ablaze, police Lieutenant Andrea Amara Lopes said.

Authorities who had been trying to negotiate an end to the prison rebellion sprayed water inside to stop the blaze. A short time later, they found burned bodies littering the smoky cell, the state's public safety department said in a statement. Autopsies were being conducted to determine whether the victims died from their burns, from smoke inhalation or both.

Brutal prison violence and rebellions are common in Brazil's overcrowded lockups, where gangs often exert more control than their keepers and manage criminal enterprises on the streets with smuggled cellphones.

Authorities investigating the fire in the small town of Ponte Nova found a gun inside the prison after breaking up the rebellion, and were trying to determine how it got inside, the Estado de Minas newspaper reported on its Web site.

The fire came just three days after Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the government would invest nearly US$3.3 billion for new prisons and social programs over the next five years to reduce prison-based violence that often spills outside.

The Justice Ministry plans to construct 160 prisons, give scholarships for police officers and expand social programs in poor areas where crime is rising, such as in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

The initiative will also focus on battling other sources of crime, including corruption, but will not increase the 575,000 police officers on the streets or upgrade their equipment.

The goal of the plan is to cut the homicide rate from 29 per 100,000 residents to about 11 per 100,000 residents by 2012.

The new prisons will each be able to house 400 inmates, and educational opportunities will be offered to some of the nation's 420,000 inmates.

Analysts said Brazil is likely to endure more bloody prison rebellions because the money won't be doled out all at once, and officials have announced no plans to spend more to train prison guards or boost their meager salaries.

Officials for prison guards concede that guards often accept bribes from prisoners to smuggle in everything from cellphones to drugs, or are coerced to cooperate with inmates with threats to hurt or kill them on the outside.

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