Inmates riot at Lebanon prison, hold guards

BEIRUT Tue Apr 5, 2011 9:55am EDT

Smoke rises from Roumieh prison, east of Beirut, April 5, 2011. REUTERS/ Mahmoud Kheir

Smoke rises from Roumieh prison, east of Beirut, April 5, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/ Mahmoud Kheir

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - Inmates at Lebanon's largest prison took three guards hostage Tuesday to protest against overcrowded conditions and lengthy detentions without trial, security sources said.

The inmates first started rioting at the weekend, setting mattresses on fire and burning buildings in the Roumieh prison complex, east of Beirut.

"They are demanding an end to the overcrowding and a general pardon," a security source said. "There are people who have been detained for months and up to two years without trials."

Television footage showed police in anti-riot gear entering the complex, as relatives of the prisoners threw stones at them. The family members had burned tires to cut off the main road leading to the jail in a protest Tuesday.

Roumieh was originally built to hold about 1,500 inmates, but is now crammed with about 3,700.

Caretaker Interior Minister Ziad Baroud said he sympathized with the concerns of the prisoner families and ordered the establishment of a police office within Roumieh to address complaints.

Some inmates in Roumieh are members of Fatah al-Islam, an al Qaeda-inspired group that battled the Lebanese army in a Palestinian refugee camp in 2007.

Four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals who were initially suspected of having a role in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri were held in Roumieh for nearly four years before being freed in 2009. They were never charged.

(Additional reporting by Reuters Television; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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