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Rio de Janeiro — At least 18 inmates died in two separate Brazilian penitentiaries during clashes between rival gangs, and authorities were investigating a possible connection between the uprisings, police said on Monday.
At least 10 of the prisoners died in a mutiny in the northern state of Roraima, while eight others perished in a similar riot about 1 300km away at a penitentiary to the south in the state of Rondonia.
Roraima’s justice secretary Uziel Castro said that at least seven of the bodies were piled up and burned after the Sunday prison mutiny in that state. At least two other bodies were found in a different section of the Monte Cristo prison, but it wasn’t immediately clear where the 10th was found. Castro says at least three of the bodies were beheaded and efforts to identify them had been slow.
The secretary said the clashes erupted between rival crime gangs. “Every penitentiary system in Brazil was aware that something was about to happen,” Castro told a news conference. But he said authorities were surprised when the riots erupted on a day the prisoners had visitors.
Officers said on Monday that about 50 people who were visiting the penitentiary in Roraima state, on the border with Venezuela and Guyana, were held hostage. They were later released unharmed.
Hours later, police confirmed a similar riot killed at least eight inmates in Rondonia state’s capital of Porto Velho in the Santos Pinheiro penitentiary. A police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because the Santos Pinheiro uprising was still under investigation told The Associated Press that there was evidence that the riot was started by “the biggest criminal organisation of Sao Paulo state”.
The organisation known as Primeiro Comando da Capital is a powerful Brazilian prison gang that has been expanding into other states and even into Bolivia and Paraguay.
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