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49 people have died in an enormous prison brawl in Mexico

The prisoners involved fought with sticks and blades and ignited a fire. 12 others were injured, five of them seriously.

Mexico Prison Inmates stand on the rooftop of the Topo Chico prison as police stand guard on the perimeters this morning Source: AP/Press Association Images

AT LEAST 49 inmates have been killed in a Mexican prison brawl as prisoners fought with bats, sticks and blades and ignited a fire in the overcrowded penitentiary.

12 others were injured during the “pitched battle” that lasted 30 to 40 minutes at the Topo Chico prison in the northern industrial city of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state Governor Jaime Rodriguez said.

The fight erupted following a dispute between leaders of two rival groups, including one led by a member of the Zetas drug cartel, Rodriguez said.

“They used sharp weapons, bats, sticks,” the governor told radio Imagen, adding that the 60-year-old penitentiary houses 3,800 inmates, twice its capacity.

During the brawl, inmates set a fire in a supply room. TV images showed flames coming out of the prison in the middle of the night.

The riot erupted on the eve of Pope Francis’ trip to Mexico, during which he is due to visit another notorious prison, in the northern border city of Ciudad Juarez.

Mexico Prison Relatives of inmates try to ram a piece of wood at police Source: AP/Press Association Images

Angry relatives flocked to the prison and tried to force their way in, desperate for information about loved ones caught in one of the deadliest Mexican prison riots in recent years.

Rodriguez told a news conference that the clash erupted before midnight (6am Irish time) and that authorities brought it under control at 1:30am local time today.

“We are experiencing a tragedy stemming from the difficult situation that they are living through at penitentiary facilities,” Rodriguez said.

“We can confirm the deaths of 52 people… The process of identifying victims continues,” he said, adding that all the victims were male inmates.

Five of the injured inmates were in serious condition.

Rodriguez rejected speculation that women or children may have been inside at the time of the riot.

Troops and federal police were deployed inside the prison to keep it under control. Rodriguez said no inmates escaped and no firearms were used.

Mexico Prison Relatives and police face off against each other Source: AP/Press Association Images

Desperate relatives

Ambulances were sent to the prison while scores of relatives crowded at the entrance, throwing rocks and pulling the gate open as riot police blocked their way with a parked vehicle.

Other relatives shouted through a fence, hoping to hear information from the inmates.

Some relatives of prisoners formed a line by holding hands to block a boulevard.

“We will stay here blocking this avenue until they give us an answer. We want to know how our relatives are doing because they are telling us that there are more than 50 dead and no authority is giving us answers,” Ernestina Grimaldo, whose son is a prisoner, told AFP.

Mexico Prison A man holds on to a fence surrounding a Topo Chico Source: AP/Press Association Images

Nuevo Leon has been the scene of violent turf wars between the Zetas and Gulf cartels for years.

Notorious prisons

Some 20 prisoners were moved out of the prison following the tragedy, a state official told AFP.

“It’s one of the most complicated (prisons) and it is in a very complicated area, too. Obviously, we have to look at the future of this prison,” Rodriguez said.

Mexican penitentiaries are notoriously overcrowded and massive prison breaks have taken place in recent years.

In February 2012, 44 inmates were killed and another 30 escaped from another Monterrey prison, known as Apodaca.

Even at the country’s top maximum-security prison, the Altiplano near Mexico City, weaknesses were exposed when drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped through a tunnel in July 2015. He was recaptured in January.

Ruth Villanueva, an expert at the governmental National Human Rights Commission, told local media last year that there was a serious crisis at the country’s prisons, with 72 of them overcrowded by more than 20%.

President Enrique Pena Nieto’s administration vowed to reform the penitentiary system following Guzman’s escape last year.

© – AFP, 2016

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