A police patrol car is seen outside a hospital where injured inmates were taken following a shootout among inmates at La Joyita…
A police patrol car is seen outside a hospital where injured inmates were taken following a shootout among inmates at La Joyita prison, in Panama City, Panama, Dec. 17, 2019.

PANAMA CITY - Rival gang members opened fire in a crowded Panamanian prison killing 14 inmates and wounding around a dozen others, the government announced Wednesday.

The gun battle, involving AK-47 automatic rifles and other firearms, erupted late Tuesday in La Joyita penitentiary, one of the country's largest prisons, east of Panama City.

"After the fight yesterday in Hall 14 of the La Joyita penitentiary we can report that 14 prisoners have died," the interior ministry said on Twitter, updating an earlier toll of 12 dead.

The country's prisons director Walter Hernandez said 14 prisoners were wounded, one seriously.

The shooting broke out among young inmates in a section of the prison known as Hall 14, which houses around 500 prisoners, authorities said.

An injured inmate is carried on a stretcher into a hospital by police paramedics after a shootout among inmates at La Joyita prison, in Panama City, Panama, Dec. 17, 2019.

Deputy Director of National Police Alexis Munoz said the shooting arose from "disputes" between inmates — mostly members of criminal gangs.

Police seized eight firearms, including three AK-47 rifles, after the incident, according to Hernandez.

Panama's President Laurentino Cortizo said that a search of the same prison weeks ago had discovered several weapons.

"That means weapons are being allowed into the prison," the president said.

The government said the ringleaders will be relocated and isolated to avoid further violence.

Panama has a prison population of some 17,000, held in 20 prisons, according to official figures released in June.

La Joyita, with some 3,700 inmates — most of them held awaiting trial — is the most populous prison in the country along with La Nueva Joya, both located in the town of Pacora.

Prisoners rights organizations have denounced conditions in the prison, which they say currently houses 900 more inmates that it was designed to hold.
 

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