Ecuador prison violence leaves nearly 70 dead

Dozens of Ecuadorians gathered outside a prison on Saturday waiting for news of loved ones who may have been killed in an overnight riot.

Nearly 70 prisoners were killed and more than two dozen injured at Ecuador's Penitenciaria del Litoral prison.

General Police commander, Tannya Varela, characterized the violence as fights among rival gangs.

"These events are due to a territory dispute by criminal gangs inside the prison. At the moment there are certain pavilions that are without leaders, because, this may be surprising to all citizens, but the leaders were released after having served 60% of their sentence."

At the same prison earlier this year, located in the southern city of Guayaquil, over 100 inmates were killed in the country's worst incident of prison violence in recent history.

The latest disturbance was set off by a power vacuum following a gang leader's release.

The provincial governor, Pablo Arosemena told the press on Saturday, "There was no leader of the gang at this cell block because a few days ago that prisoner was released. Other cell blocks with other groups wanted to control them, get inside and have a total massacre."

Ecuador's prison system has come under spotlight in recent years for overcrowding and poor sanitation and living conditions.

In September, the country's president, Guillermo Lasso, declared a two month state of emergency in the prison system and most recently he called on the highest court to allow military to enter prisons, instead of providing only outside security.

The court responded in a statement that the prison crisis will require more than temporary emergency solutions.

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