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Inmates Riot in Mexico City Prison

September 16, 1998

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Scores of inmates in Mexico City’s overcrowded Northside Prison rioted Wednesday, looting stores and setting fire to at least two dormitories, inmates and witnesses said.

Several prisoners and guards were reported hurt.

The riot began Wednesday morning when guards disobeyed orders and refused to let hundreds of family members visit their loved ones inside, witnesses said.

By law, visits are allowed on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Wednesday was Independence Day in Mexico, a national holiday.

One of the inmates, Manuel Manrique San Agustin, said about 150 prisoners armed with rocks and steel rods took part in the riot, which ended Wednesday afternoon when the relatives were finally allowed in.

``There is a lot of tension,″ Manrique told MVS-Radio, speaking on a cellular phone from the jail during the riot. He said he was in one of the cell blocks, hiding under a table. He identified himself as head of the prison’s human rights committee.

Soraya Cabrera Saldana, director of the prison’s social services, who went inside briefly during the disturbance said police used tear gas and patrolled the main entrance yards with assault rifles.

Manrique said the riot was set off by the cancellation of the visits, but also by overcrowding and corruption. The cell blocks were designed for about 100 men, but currently house as many as 400.

He said prisoners set fire to mattresses and looted some of the prison stores.

During the riot, police troops shot tear gas and fired AR-15 rifles in the air in an attempt to disperse the relatives, but hundreds remained at the prison door. Many of the demonstrators kicked and threw rocks at the steel outer doors of the prison.

``Visits are allowed on holidays. Why don’t they let us in? We’ve been waiting for hours and that makes people very angry,″ said a relative with tears in her eyes. She did not give her name.

Riots and mutinies are frequent in Mexican prisons, where corruption, brutality and overcrowding is common, according to human rights organizations.

In the four Mexico City prisons, gangs of inmates brutalize other prisoners, deal in contraband drugs, alcohol and cigarettes and in some cases demand bribes of inmates just for the right to eat.

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