Prison blaze kills at least 29 in Argentina

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BUENOS AIRES, Nov 5 (Reuters) A fire set by inmates swept through a prison in a northeastern Argentine city, killing at least 29 people, authorities said today.

Many of the deaths were caused by asphyxiation as inmates were overcome by smoke, Ricardo Daives, Justice Minister for the Santiago del Estero province, told the C5N television network.

Local media reports said fighting between inmates broke out on Sunday after prisoners set fire to mattresses and other furniture in what officials said appeared to be an attempt by some convicts to escape.

Authorities were back in control of the prison. Television images showed helmeted police officers in riot gear entering the jail after the flames were brought under control.

''We have 29 people dead, according to what jail officials told us, but there there could be two more in the hospital,'' Daives said.

Outside, women shouted insults at police who set up iron barricades to keep back relatives who arrived at the prison in Santiago del Estero, some 1,150 km north of Buenos Aires.

Police later fired tear gas and rubber bullets on dozens of relatives massed outside the prison, the Buenos Aires newspaper Clarin reported on its Web site. The relatives were demanding news of their family members, it said.

Several guards at the prison, which houses some 460 inmates, were also injured, Clarin reported.

REUTERS SZ DS1147

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