BARRIO (BBC) – At least 10 guards are being held hostage by inmates at Paraguay’s largest prison, police in the South American country have confirmed.
Prisoners started a riot at the Tacumbú jail in the capital, Asunción, on Tuesday afternoon.
Television footage showed prisoners on the roof of the jail throwing stones at police.
The prison director says members of a prison gang called Rotela Clan are behind the unrest.
The exact number of guards still being held hostage is unclear.
A police spokesman said it was “at least 10”, but in a video call with a local radio station on Wednesday morning local time, the prison’s director, Luis Esquivel, said he and 21 guards were still being detained by the rioters.
Standing in front of his uniformed staff in what he describes as “at the back of a wing”, Mr Esquivel explained that he and the guards had been held for 15 hours. He added that they were being “treated well”.
According to Mr Esquivel, the inmates have made three demands in exchange for letting the hostages go: a guarantee that the police will not storm the jail, a signed document guaranteeing that there will be no reprisals for the riot, and a promise that the overcrowded Tacumbú will be reopened for new inmates.
Local media have reported that the last demand is an attempt by the Rotela Clan to further strengthen its influence in Tacumbú by having even more of its members sent to it, even though the jail is already holding thousands more inmates than it was designed for.
More than two dozen women are also reportedly inside the jail, but it is not clear if they are being held against their will or if they stayed voluntarily with their jailed partners when the riot broke out during visiting hours.
Flames could be seen inside the jail as inmates set mattresses alight.
Paraguay’s justice minister, Ángel Barchini, said the government would not let itself be blackmailed by criminal gangs and insisted that the security forces would regain control of the jail.
Mr Barchini had announced during a meeting of ministers on 2 October that he had a plan to wrest control of Tacumbú from the Rotela Clan, which controls it.
Media in Paraguay have speculated that news of this plan could have triggered the riot, which broke out on Tuesday.
Paraguay is not the only country in the region to struggle to regain control of jails which for years have been run by inmates.
In Venezuela, the leader of a “luxury” jail complete with mini-zoo and baseball pitch escaped before thousands of soldiers were deployed to transfer inmates and establish order.
And in Ecuador, prison gangs have become so powerful that they control much of the criminal enterprises across the country from behind bars.