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Guyana prison riot over seized cell phones leaves 16 dead

Georgetown (Reuters) - A major riot left 16 people dead in Guyana’s overcrowded main prison after inmates were angered by the seizure of illicit cell phones, officials said on Thursday.

The army, police and fire services are on site under the command of the superintendent of prisons.

“We have a crisis on our hands ... as a result of several incidents that commenced at around 9:23 last night,” Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan said at a press conference in Georgetown.

Scores of relatives are waiting outside the prison, and have clashed with officers as they seek information about the safety of their relatives. Five prisoners remain in the hospital.

President David Granger said a three-member panel would be convened to investigate the incident.

The prison was built for 600 inmates though currently houses more than 900.

The riot started after a regular monthly raid for illegal items was conducted just after midday on Wednesday. Some marijuana and 19 cell phones were seized, according to Kevin Pilgrim, the superintendent of prisons.

Guyanese law provides for two phone calls per week.

“Persons will clearly state that is inadequate and they will do what they have to do to get (more),” Pilgrim stated, adding that officials helped smuggle the cell phones into the prison.

“I will not sit here and deny that we don’t have some officers who are corrupt. That is a fact,” he added.

Writing by Girish Gupta; Editing by Marguerita Choy