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Honduran families seek answers as prison riot deaths rise to 46


By Gustavo Palencia and Fredy Rodriguez

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (Reuters) -The death toll from a riot at a women’s prison in Honduras rose to 46, a government spokesperson said on Wednesday, as anxious relatives demanded information about the fate of incarcerated family members.

Relatives of inmates gathered at the Centro Femenino de Adaptacion Social, the 900-person women’s penitentiary around 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the capital city Tegucigalpa, where gang violence erupted a day earlier.

At Tegucigalpa’s main public morgue, workers were running out of space for victims’ remains as relatives arrived, with some asking that officials release a list of the victims from Tuesday’s violent incident.

Identifying victims is a challenge, as many of which were “charred or reduced” to ash, according to Yuri Mora, spokesperson for the public prosecutor’s office.

The riot had been planned by gang members with guards’ knowledge, Honduran President Xiomara Castro said on Twitter on Tuesday, saying she would take “drastic measures” to address the deaths.

Angel Garcia, 34, arrived at the morgue Wednesday and discovered his wife and two sisters were among the victims, questioning how authorities let this happen in a country with a history of deadly prison incidents.

“Everybody passes the ball … everything goes unpunished,” Garcia said. “It is unfair that we are suffering because of corruption.”

The clash took place when armed members of the Barrio 18 gang held back guards and attacked members of the rival Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), police spokesperson Miguel Martinez said on local television.

The gangs, which both have roots in Los Angeles, have long battled for control of the drug trafficking and extortion industries, with the bloody conflict making Central America one of the world’s most dangerous regions.

The riot was likely in reaction to a government crackdown in recent months on corruption within prisons, said Julissa Villanueva, head of the penal system, on Tuesday, describing the riot as a “terrorist attack”.

Measures to combat organized crime are set to be announced on Wednesday, according to Castro’s office.

Since December, Honduras’ government has implemented a state of exception, following a model pursued by neighbor El Salvador, which suspends some constitutional rights and allows security forces to detain people who they consider are associated with crime.

(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia and Fredy Rodriguez; Writing by Brendan O’Boyle and Valentine Hillaire; Editing by Daina Beth Solomon and Alistair Bell)

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