Seven inmates die in Brazil prison riot

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SAO PAULO, Brazil, Mar 23 (Reuters) At least seven inmates in a Brazilian prison died in a fire started by rioting prisoners, security officials today said.

The riot in the overcrowded Jundiai prison in Sao Paulo state began yesterday evening, when inmates seized three guards and two female investigators who had come to escort some prisoners to a court. It ended today when the last three of the hostages were released. Two had been released earlier.

A spokesman for the state public security secretariat said inmates started burning their mattresses -- a common form of protest in Brazilian prisons -- during the night.

''We have seven confirmed deaths, most probably from the smoke.

There could be more,'' he said.

''The hostages walked out unharmed and prisoners are being counted,'' said the spokesman. He said negotiators had managed to prevent elite police units from storming the prison.

Prisoners had demanded transfers to other penitentiaries from Jundiai, which holds over 470 inmates but only has capacity for 120.

The spokesman did not say what, if any, demands the authorities agreed to meet, but said they were evaluating the transfer of some prisoners, especially after the penitentiary building was damaged in the riot.

Reuters SY DB2245

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