As least 50 prisoners have died in three Ecuadorian prisons as a result of riots, local police said Tuesday.
The melees erupted in the cities of Guayaquil, Cuenca and Latacunga. It is unknown whether police have reestablished control of the facilities.
Among Ecuador’s roughly 38,000 inmates, confrontations among criminal groups often result in riots. In December, riots spanning several facilities caused 11 deaths.
President Lenín Moreno declared the national prison system in a state of emergency and ordered stepped-up security measures.
“As a result of the violent riots carried out today among gangs in three of the country’s prisons, I have ordered (the Ministry of Defense) to exercise strict gun, ammunition and explosives control in the surrounding areas of correctional facilities,” Moreno said on Twitter.
Earlier in the day, the president said he had “authorized the use of force in a progressive way to guarantee the safety of citizens in confinement.”
Concerned family members of inmates have reportedly gathered outside prisons seeking information.