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Armed Inmates Hold Off Troops at Venezuelan Prison


National Guard soldiers carry a stretcher outside of El Rodeo I prison during a riot inside the jail in Guatire, Venezuela, June 17, 2011

National Guard soldiers carry a stretcher outside of El Rodeo I prison during a riot inside the jail in Guatire, Venezuela, June 17, 2011

Hundreds of Venezuelan troops are trying to regain control of a large prison east of Caracas where thousands of armed inmates have been holding them off for a week.

Since Sunday, 24 people have been killed at the El Rodeo prison in Guatire, east of the capital - 21 prisoners, one visitor and two national guardsmen who stormed the complex Friday and died in a gunbattle.

Authorities say they are sending in more national guard units Saturday to retake control of the prison, and to disperse angry crowds outside that have demanded more action by the government to protect their friends and relatives inside the prison.

Smoke has been coming from a portion of the prison, Rodeo One, and gunfire has echoed through the cellblocks. The complex holds more than 5,000 prisoners, far more than it was designed to house.

Although troops failed to gain full control of the prison Friday, authorities said they recovered large quantities of weapons - rifles, shotguns, pistols and grenades - plus drugs and more than 100 cellphones.

National guard units used tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters Friday.

Violence has broken out in Venezuela's crowded prisons many times in recent years. During the first three months of this year alone, human-rights groups say more than 120 prisoners have been killed in such incidents.

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