Prison inmates from rival gangs in Ecuador fought each other with guns, explosives and blades in a bloodbath that left at least 68 dead in the same prison where a riot in September claimed 119 lives, officials said Saturday.
Authorities said late Saturday they had re-gained control of the prison in Guayaquil for a second time in as many days after President Guillermo Lasso's spokesman said fighting had again broken out earlier in the day between inmates from rival gangs tied to drug trafficking rings.
In the initial riot that began Friday night prisoners fought with "savagery," said Pablo Arosemena, governor of the province of Guayas where the prison is located.
The riot began around 7:00 pm Friday when prisoners tried to enter Block 2 of the jail where their rivals were held, firing gunshots, detonating explosives and swinging machetes, and prompting police to move in.
At least 68 prisoners were killed and another 25 were wounded, according a statement which the Ecuador Prosecutor's Office posted on Twitter.
In the second outbreak of fighting Saturday, inmates from two other blocks attacked each other, said presidential spokesman Carlos Jijon.
He confirmed a little while later that police had pushed through to the prison's interior and that the situation was "under control."
Officials said the violence started when one of the gangs inside the prison, the Tiguerones, was left without its leader because he was released after serving part of his sentence for stealing auto parts.
Other groups, sensing weakness in the Tiguerones with that man gone, went on the attack to try to crush the gang, Arosemena said.
He said their goal was "to go in and carry out a total massacre."
- 'Help them' -
Earlier Saturday, police officers in riot gear were seen climbing up the blood-stained prison walls, while the body of an inmate in an orange prison jumpsuit lay on the roof of the jail encircled by barbed wire.
Images posted on social networks, whose authenticity has not been confirmed by the authorities, showed a pile of bodies in a night-time prison courtyard being consumed by flames while inmates standing nearby beat the bodies with sticks.
In another video, a prisoner from the block that was being attacked says, "We are locked in our pavilion. They want to kill us all."
"Please share this video. Please help us!" the inmate implores, as repeated bangs are heard in the background.
Dozens of people gathered outside the prison gates Saturday morning, fainting or weeping as they tried to learn the fate of their loved ones inside.
"They are human beings, help them," read a banner held by one of the families, kept back by a deployment of police and soldiers supported by an armoured car.
A group of women with one cell phone shouted prisoners' names to an inmate who was inside the prison and on the line, hoping to know if those men were still alive.
"Here there are relatives from block two and they need to know about the boys," the woman holding the phone said.
A crackly voice was heard from the phone but the signal was spotty and then there was just silence.
At a coroner's office in the city, Felix Gonzalez showed up holding his imprisoned son's ID card and asked if his body was there. "It is not fair for him to die for stealing a cell phone," Gonzalez told AFP.
More than 300 prisoners have been killed this year in Ecuador's criminal detention system, where thousands of inmates tied to drug gangs square off in violent clashes that often turn into riots.
September's unrest was one of the worst prison massacres in Latin American history, and the latest deadly violence in Guayaquil only reaffirmed the broken state of Ecuador's jails.
Rival drug gangs have been waging a bloody feud in the Guayas 1 prison in Guayaquil, a facility that was designed for 5,300 inmates, but houses 8,500.
But even after a crackdown in the wake of the September 28 tragedy that killed 119, the unrest has persisted, with at least 15 more inmates dying prior to Friday's deadly burst of violence.
Two weeks after the September disaster, the president declared a 60-day state of emergency in a bid to tame surging drug-related unrest.
Violence has spiked dramatically in recent months in Ecuador, where the economy is ailing.
Between January and October this year, the country registered almost 1,900 homicides, compared to about 1,400 in all of 2020, according to the government.