JAILBREAK – A total of 68 people died on Wednesday during an attempted jailbreak in Venezuela after a fire engulfed police holding cells in one of the worst tragedies in years in a notoriously violent and overcrowded prison system.
Attorney General Tarek William Saab gave the death toll in the pre-dawn mayhem at the police headquarters in northern Carabobo state, blaming a fire thought to have been started deliberately.
Carlos Nieto, head of a prisoners’ rights group called Una Ventana a la Libertad (A Window on Freedom), said that some prisoners burned to death and others choked after setting fire to mattresses and stealing a guard’s gun in an attempt to break out.
The dead included two women who were visiting the jail, the attorney general said, adding that four prosecutors have been named to investigate.
Photos taken by Nieto’s group showed the body of a man with burns and firefighters trying to put out flames.
Relatives of those being kept in the detention center tried to force their way in. After one officer was injured by a tossed stone, the crowd was dispersed by police firing tear gas.
A video posted on Twitter showed dozens of people demanding information in front of police guarding the site. Women were seen crying.
“I am a desperate mother. My son has been here a week. They have not given any information,” Dora Blanco told local media.
Local news correspondents wrote on Twitter that the facility was tense Wednesday night.
– Dire prison conditions –
Venezuela’s prisons suffer from dire overcrowding and a shortage of basic supplies, struggling under the deepening economic crisis that is gripping the once-wealthy oil-producing country.
Because of the lack of space in penitentiaries, convicts are often sent to police holding cells like the ones in Carabobo, meant to be used as temporary pens for suspects facing charges or court hearings, where detainees are supposed to spend a maximum of 48 hours.
Nieto’s association estimated that the temporary detention centers were overfilled by five times their capacity.
And what happened Wednesday in Carabobo is not an isolated incident, he added.
“All the police stations in Venezuela are facing similar or worse conditions of overcrowding, lack of food and disease,” he said.
The association said 65 people died last year in the holding cells due to violence, malnutrition or tuberculosis.
Two weeks ago, 58 detainees escaped holding cells on Margarita Island, a favored tourist spot, after punching a hole in their facility’s wall. They were all soon recaptured.
In August 2017, a riot left 37 dead and 14 wounded in police cells in the southern state of Amazonas, while an April 2017 clash between rival gangs left 12 dead and 11 injured in the Puente Ayala prison in the eastern city of Barcelona.
A month before that, the remains of 14 people were found in a mass grave in the General Penitentiary of Venezuela, in San Juan de Los Morros in the country’s center.
Vietnamese President, Tran Dai Quang, dies
Vietnam’s President Tran Dai Quang died Friday at age 61 after a prolonged and serious illness, state media reported.
He passed away from a “serious illness despite devoted treatment by professors and doctors” both in Vietnam and abroad, the official Vietnam News Agency said.
In office as president since April 2016 after more than four decades at the powerful Ministry of Public Security, Quang had a reputation as a tough leader with little tolerance for dissent.
Though he held one of the country’s top four positions and was officially the head of state, his role as president was seen as largely ceremonial, greeting visiting leaders and hosting diplomatic events in a bid to boost Vietnam’s profile on the world stage.
Quang had appeared thin and pale in public, and was unstable on his feet last week when he hosted a welcoming ceremony for Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Hanoi last week.
His last public appearance was just two days ago, at a meeting with visiting Chinese politicians and foreign dignitaries in Hanoi.
Quang, a member of the Politburo, had a reputation as tough and influential in the inner circles of the communist party, though often appeared uncomfortable in the public eye and lacked the charisma of some of his peers in the upper echelons of the party.
In an interview with AFP in 2016 ahead of a visit by the former French leader Francois Hollande, Quang read from a prepared statement and was quickly escorted from the room by staff when a question went off-script.
State media made a sombre announcement of his death Friday and celebrated his long commitment to public service.
His time in office was dominated by a simmering conflict with Beijing over the South China Sea, a long-running dispute between the communist neighbours that escalated on several occasions.
Vietnam cancelled at least one oil drilling project in the resource-rich region during Quang’s tenure in an apparent bid to quell tensions.
He was the administration’s most public face at a series of high-profile events, most notably at an APEC meeting in Danang in November last year where he hosted a bevy of world leaders — including US President Donald Trump and China’s Xi Jinping.
As president, he oversaw a crackdown on dissidents that rights groups have decried as a chokehold on free expression. More than 40 people were jailed this year and some 100 have been behind bars as of April 2018, according to Amnesty International.
Flood victims groan, beg for assistance in Bayelsa
Some affected residents along the Epie Creek in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, have bemoaned their loss and the discomfort caused them by floods that submerged their houses.
Southern City News learnt on Thursday that the impact of flooding caused by the overflow of the waters from Taylor Creek, tributaries of Orashi and Niger rivers, dealt a devastating blow to the residents.
It was also gathered that the water levels rose beyond tolerable limits and thereby wreaked havoc on houses, the environment and properties of some residents.
Due to the development, some residents were said to have temporarily relocated from their homes to seek refuge in other places.
A resident of the Onopa area of the Yenagoa metropolis, Joy Elvis, said the people were helpless as the assistance promised by the state government in its sensitisation messages had yet to materialise.
Elvis said, “It has not been easy; the water levels have been on the increase and it is usually expected at this time of the year, but on Tuesday the flood entered our houses, destroying properties. Since then, we have been under intense pressure. Worse still, some of us have no where to run to.
“We need help badly but no one seems to care. We have resorted to moving some of our valuable items to neighbours’ houses because there are no shelters provided by the government yet.
“Our prayer is that the water go back because if it goes beyond this level, even the Good Samaritans accommodating some of us will be threatened as well.”
Another resident, John Abide, said they had been compelled to use local canoes to access their homes, following the constantly rising water levels in the past few days.
He lamented that a lot of people affected were not reluctant to leave as they did not want to become a burden to their friends.
Abide stated, “So, what most people do is to adapt by making wooden platforms within their houses where important things are kept.
“Those who have canoes have put them to use when they needed to go out. We are predominantly people who go to the river regularly to fish; so, we are not so afraid of water.”
Yet another resident, who gave his name only as Preye, said the recent flood had left a sour tale in the mouths of many residents of the area.
She appealed to the government and public-spirited individuals to come to their rescue in order to give them a new lease of life.
“We know what happened to us is a natural disaster but we are appealing for help. We know that government’s intervention will go a long way in ameliorating our predicament, “ he stated.
Meanwhile, the Bayelsa State Government has said it is determined to ensure that no life is lost in the flood that is currently ravaging the state.
The Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, had, while giving an update of the situation, assured the residents that with the proactive steps the government had taken, there was no cause for alarm.
Rotimi Amaechi gets another appointment from Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the appointment of the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi as the Secretary/Director General of his campaign team.
This was contained in a statement signed by Buhari’s spokesperson, Garba Shehu, on Thursday.
A terse statement said Amaechi will subsequently appoint other members of the Buhari-Osinbajo Presidential Campaign team.
The statement reads, “President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the appointment of a campaign organization for his re-election in 2019 with Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi as Secretary.
“Hon. Amaechi was the Director General of the Buhari-Osinbajo Presidential Campaign Committee in 2014-2015 that won the elections and brought the current administration into office.
“The new Director-General will announce other appointments into the campaign structure as approved by President Buhari.”
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