In Brief

Venezuela: 68 dead in police station fire

Blaze reportedly started after rioting prisoners set fire to mattresses in attempted breakout

At least 68 people were killed when a fire swept through a police station in the central Venezuelan city of Valencia yesterday, prosecutors have confirmed.

The blaze is believed to have been started by rioting prisoners who set fire to mattresses in an attempt to break out of their holding cells, officials said.

Outside the station, “angry family members seeking information clashed with police and pushed against a barricade, prompting officers to shoot tear gas at the crowd”, CNN reports.

“I am a desperate mother. My son has been here a week. They have not given any information,” one woman told local media.

Attorney General Tarek William Saab promised to “immediately clarify what happened in these painful events that have left dozens of Venezuelan families in mourning”.

Venezuelan prisons are notoriously overcrowded, and deadly riots often break out. More than 6,660 people died in the country’s jails between 1999 and 2015, according to Human Rights Watch.

“Many Venezuelan prisons are lawless and have been for decades,” says Reuters. “Prisoners often openly wield machine guns and grenades, use drugs and leave guards powerless.”

The deaths come amid deepening economic turmoil in Venezuela. Chronic medicine and food shortages have sparked riots and nationwide looting. 

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