Honduran families seek answers as prison riot deaths rise to 46

By Gustavo Palencia

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) -The death toll from a riot at a women’s prison in Honduras rose to 46, a government spokesperson said on Wednesday, as relatives queued at the capital’s public morgue for information about incarcerated family members.

The number of victims ticked up as authorities identified more prisoners’ remains, many of which were “charred or reduced” to ash, according to Yuri Mora, spokesperson for the public prosecutor’s office.

Tuesday’s violent incident at the 900-woman prison 20 kilometers (12 miles) from capital Tegucigalpa had been planned by gang members with guards’ knowledge, Honduran President Xiomara Castro said on Twitter.

The clash took place when armed members of the Barrio 18 gang held back guards and attacked members of the rival Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), police spokesperson Miguel Martinez said on local television.

The gangs, which both have roots in Los Angeles, have long battled for control of the drug trafficking and extortion industries, with the bloody conflict making Central America one of the world’s most dangerous regions.

The riot was likely in reaction to a government crackdown in recent months on corruption within prisons, said Julissa Villanueva, head of the penal system, on Tuesday, describing the riot as a “terrorist attack”.

Measures to combat organized crime are set to be announced on Wednesday, according to Castro’s office.

Since December, Honduras’ government has implemented a state of exception, following a model pursued by neighbor El Salvador, which suspends some constitutional rights and allows security forces to detain people who they consider are associated with crime.

(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Writing by Valentine Hilaire; Editing by Brendan O’Boyle and Ed Osmond)