Argentine prison fire kills 33, relatives protest

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BUENOS AIRES, Nov 6 (Reuters) A fire set by inmates killed 33 people at a prison in northern Argentina, officials said, in the latest deadly uprising in the country's overcrowded jails.

Dozens of prisoners' relatives protested outside the penitentiary in Santiago del Estero province, demanding a list of the dead and injured a day after inmates set fire to mattresses when an escape plan failed on Sunday.

Local television showed inmates burning mattresses again yesterday and pushing them through the bars of the prison windows to protest the toxic odor lingering from the fire, but officials said later that calm had been restored.

A spokeswoman for the province's Justice Ministry yesterday said the situation was under control and that a prison guard was among the dead. Five other people were injured in the fire, three of them seriously.

Protesting family members, mostly women, rocked the metal arricades set up outside the prison.

Many of the deaths were caused by asphyxiation when inmates were overcome by smoke, provincial Justice Minister Ricardo Daives told local television.

Some 460 inmates were housed at the medium-security prison in Santiago del Estero, about 715 miles (1,150 km) north of Buenos Aires.

Two years ago, another prison blaze killed at least 32 inmates in Buenos Aires province. In that case, a court accused guards of having abandoned the prisoners, which led to their deaths.

A string of prison riots hit Argentina in 2005 due to jail overcrowding and gang violence, which are common throughout Latin America.

Argentine inmates have also staged hunger strikes to demand quicker action on their court cases. Many people are jailed ''preventively'' while awaiting a verdict, sometimes for years.

REUTERS MP AS0442

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