State of emergency declared as death toll from drug gang prison war hits 116

A "state of emergency" has been declared in Ecuador after violent clashes between prison gangs left 116 people dead, with several of them beheaded or cremated.

On Tuesday morning, the two rival gangs inside Litoral Penitentiary, Guayaquil – Los Lobos and Los Choneros – started fighting for control of one of the prison's pavilions.

They were armed with "firearms and explosives" according to the prison service, and supposedly have links to Mexican drug cartels.

Terrifying images from locals showed inmates on the prison roof wielding guns and knives. In videos, the booming sound of explosives and gunfire could be heard.

The National Police and Ecuadorian Armed Forces managed to regain control of the prison after five hours, and initial reports put the number of dead at 24, with eight having been beheaded.

That number soon rose to 35 as police continued to open cells in the prison. Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso confirmed today in a press conference that the number had risen to 116, with over 80 injured.

It may well continue to rise as the search continues.

At today's press conference President Lasso decreed a "state of emergency" in the country's entire prison system for 60 days, which suspends normal political procedures and allows the government to do almost whatever it deems necessary to solve the crisis.

He also said that he would travel to the city of Guayaquil to preside over a security committee and "coordinate necessary actions to control the emergency".

Around midday on Wednesday local time, the families of those in Litoral Penitentiary congregated outside the prison, desperate to see if their relatives were among the deceased.

This comes after 79 people died in three different Ecuadorian prisons in February this year, including the one in Guayaquil.

President Lasso decreed a similar state of emergency in July following violent clashes.

Just two weeks ago, the prison service said that Litoral Penitentiary was attacked by a drone as part of "a war between international cartels".

Recent reports have suggested that Los Lobos and Los Choneros have links to rival Mexican drug cartels.

Ecuador is used as a drug smuggling route from South America northwards. Coastal cities such as Guayaquil are particularly lucrative for international cartels, who often use local gangs to conduct their business.

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