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At least 68 dead in Ecuador prison gang clash

At least 68 dead in Ecuador prison gang clash
Roughly 300 people have already died in prison violence in Ecuador this year

At least 68 people have been killed and 12 are injured amid ongoing violence between rival gangs in an Ecuadorean prison, according to officials.

Clashes began on Friday at the Litoral Penitentiary in the city of Guayaquil and lasted nearly eight hours, with police deployed inside the prison reportedly discovering guns and explosives.

Videos on circulating on social media showed burned bodies lying inside the prison grounds, and officials said some of the inmates had tried to dynamite a prison wall to carry out a “massacre” against rival gang members.

Authorities linked the weekend’s violence to Ecuador’s ongoing struggles with the influence of transnational drug gangs like the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels.

“We are fighting against drug trafficking,” governor Pablo Arosemena of the Guayas province to the Associated Press. “It is very hard.”

On Saturday, family members of those inside the prison gathered outside its walls, awaiting news from inside.

“Enough of this,” Francisca Chancay, told the Associated Press. “When will they stop the killing? This is a prison not a slaughterhouse, they are human beings.”

The facility was the site last month of some of the country’s worst prison violence ever, when hundreds of soldiers were needed to quell the lethal fighting inside, and some inmates were decapitated. All told, the October blood bath killed at least 118 people, the latest rash of deaths after a February riot across multiple prisons killed 79 people.

Roughly 300 people have died in violence behind bars in Ecuador this year.

Prisons are overcrowded in the South American nation, with facilities in the country holding 9,000 more inmates than intended, more than 3,000 of whom are held in Litoral.

Ecuador president Guillermo Lasso has accused previous administrations of being “passive” on drug cartels, and has called for more support from partners like Colombia, the US, and the EU to help the country strengthen its armed forces and police. He warned the BBC in an interview earlier this month that tackling Ecuador’s gang violence problem could take “more than a decade” of sustained interventions.

Mexican drug cartels have been accused of collaborating with local gangs like Los Lobos and Los Choneros, battling in- and outside of prison for lucrative drug routes. According to the US Drug Enforcement agency, nearly three quarters of the cocaine that arrives in the US is carried across the Eastern Pacific region, with Ecuador serving as a key transit point.