CARACAS, VENEZUELA - At least 29 prisoners were killed and 19 police wounded in clashes at a jail in western Venezuela Friday, authorities said.
The incident at the police station jail in the town of Acarigua, in Portuguesa state, occurred when police special forces (FAES) tried to stop a "massive prison break," which resulted in the deaths of 29 inmates, according to Portuguesa public security secretary Oscar Valero.
The prisoners received the officers with "a hail of gunfire" while detonating three grenades, which injured 19 police, Valero told reporters.
The Una Ventana a la Libertad NGO, which defends prisoner rights, gave a preliminary toll of 25 dead.
NGO director Carlos Nieto said the clashes broke out when the FAES attempted to rescue visitors who had been taken hostage Thursday by the leader of the inmates at the jail.
"This morning (authorities) sent the FAES and there was a clash. The detainees had weapons, they shot at the police. Apparently they also detonated two grenades," Nieto told AFP.
The inmates' leader, Wilfredo Ramos, was one of those killed, according to an internal police report.
The report, quoted by the NGO, said several officers were wounded by "shrapnel and explosives."
Nieto said the inmates were demanding "food and to be transferred to prisons," and had denounced police "abuses."
Violence is a problem in such detention facilities, where inmates are supposed to be held for a maximum of 48 hours, Una Ventana a la Libertad said.
There are around 500 of them in the country, holding 55,000 people even though their total capacity is 8,000, the NGO added.
The Acarigua jail has capacity for 60 inmates but was holding 500, according to the police report.
Venezuela has one of the worst records for prison violence in the region.