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Prison uprising winding down

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February 20, 2001 


SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) The biggest prison uprising in Brazil's history was winding down Monday, a day after inmates seized control of Latin America's largest jail, took guards hostage and held nearly 8,000 visitors inside.

The rebellion at Carandiru prison touched off similar revolts in 28 other prisons and jails across Sao Paulo state. On Monday, the state government said most hostages and visitors many of them family members who stayed voluntarily had been released and that all but two prisons in the state's interior had been brought back under control.

``The visitors are leaving and employees are being freed,'' Nagashi Furukawa, state secretary of prison administration, said in a televised interview.

At least 12 inmates were killed in the unrest, which began at Carandiru as prisoners protested the transfer of 10 people believed to be members of a Rio de Janeiro-based arms and drug trafficking ring. The group is influential among the prison's 10,000 inmates.

Furukawa said a delegation was talking with leaders of the rebellion on Monday but said it was not negotiating the return of the 10 to Carandiru, which he called ``absurd.''

``If there were a reasonable demand we would analyze it,'' he said. ``But from the start the demand was something we couldn't agree to.''

Marco Vinicio Petreluzzi, Sao Paulo's public security secretary, said the return of the 10 ringleaders was out of the question.

``It was a carefully planned operation, by an organization that exerts its influence over inmates in other prisons,'' Petreluzzi said. ``The uprising was clearly the organization's way of getting back at us for the transfer of the 10.''

The wife of one inmate left Carandiru early Monday and said all the hostages and guards had been well treated, but accused police of shooting three prisoners.

``I ran up to the fourth floor of cell block No. 4 and I saw police shoot three inmates in the back,'' said Clara Martin Kalil, holding up a spent bullet casing. ``None of us considers ourselves hostages, we could have left whenever we wanted, but we preferred to stay inside for fear there could be a repeat of the massacre of 1992.''

She was referring to a notorious riot in Carandiru, when a bloody operation to quell an uprising left at least 111 inmates dead.

The riot started Sunday during late morning visiting hours. Some 72 prison guards and more than 7,900 visitors including 1,700 children were inside when the rebellion started, said police Capt. Monica Bondezan. It wasn't clear how many prisoners were rioting at the jail.

Four prisoners were killed and six were wounded at Carandiru, at least five were killed at the Franco da Rocha prison and one at a jail, Furukawa said. Petreluzzi said two prisoners had died at another jail, apparently killed by other inmates.

The 10 prison leaders were transferred Friday after authorities at the jail raided cells and found stockpiles of ammunition, knives and cell phones.

The 10 belong to a criminal group known as First Capital Command. The group is believed to be a branch of a Rio de Janeiro organized crime group that calls itself the Crime Party.

The rebellion was a clear slap in the face to state government, who most observers agree is losing its grip over the state's prison system. Riots and violence in the country's overcrowded jails are common.

``The government will not allow organized crime to dominate the prison system,'' said Geraldo Alckmin, acting governor of Sao Paulo State.

Armed with revolvers and a grenade, rioters at Carandiru took over block after block of the jail, Petreluzzi said at a news conference.

As the revolt started at Carandiru, smoke was seen pouring from windows. But as riot police arrived outside, the situation appeared to calm. Prisoners painted the words ``peace, ``justice'' and ``freedom'' on the ground of the courtyard outside.

Prisoners' relatives and other supporters gathered outside waving banners reading, ``We want peace.''

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