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At least 41 killed in riot at women’s prison in Honduras, officials say

A riot Tuesday at a women's prison in Honduras killed at least 41 women, most of whom burned to death, in violence linked to gang activity, authorities said.

Most victims burned to death, others suffered gunshot and knife wounds

Security forces guard a prison.

A riot at a women's prison in Honduras Tuesday left at least 41 women dead, most burned to death, in violence the country's president blamed on the "mara" street gangs that often wield broad power inside penitentiaries.

Most victims were burned but there also were reports of inmates shot or stabbed at the prison in Tamara, about 50 kilometres northwest of the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, said Yuri Mora, the spokesperson for Honduras' national police investigation agency.

At least seven female inmates were being treated at a Tegucigalpa hospital for gunshot and knife wounds, employees there said.

"The forensic teams that are removing bodies confirm they have counted 41," said Mora.

Barrio 18 gang members

Local media interviewed one injured inmate outside the hospital who said prisoners belonging to the feared Barrio 18 gang burst into a cell block and shot other inmates or set them afire.

Honduran President Xiomara Castro said the riot was "planned by maras with the knowledge and acquiescence of security authorities."

Female inmates and guards stand together at a prison.

"I am going to take drastic measures!" Castro wrote in her social media accounts.

Julissa Villanueva, head of the country's prison system, suggested the riot started because of recent attempts by authorities to crack down on illicit activity inside prisons and called Tuesday's violence a reaction to moves "we are taking against organized crime."

"We will not back down," Villanueva said in a televised address after the riot.

Police form a line and others try to speak to them.

Gangs wield broad control inside the country's prisons, where inmates often set their own rules and sell prohibited goods.

The riot appears to be the worst tragedy at a female detention centre in Central America since 2017, when girls at a shelter for troubled youths in Guatemala set fire to mattresses to protest rapes and other mistreatment at the badly overcrowded institution. The ensuing smoke and fire killed 41 girls.

The worst prison disaster in a century also occurred in Honduras, in 2012 at the Comayagua penitentiary, where 361 inmates died in a fire possibly caused by a match, cigarette or some other open flame.

Tuesday's riot may increase the pressure on Honduras to emulate the drastic zero-tolerance, no-privileges prisons set in up in neighbouring El Salvador by President Nayib Bukele. While El Salvador's crackdown on gangs has given rise to rights violations, it has also proved immensely popular in a country long terrorized by street gangs.

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