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Middle East
Security forces storm Lebanon jail after riot
Prisoners demanding amnesty and better conditions have detained three guards as part of their continuing protests.
Last Modified: 05 Apr 2011 23:17
Family members of the inmates burnt tyres to cut off the main road leading to the jail [AFP]

Security forces have stormed Lebanon's largest jail after talks failed to secure the release of three guards held by inmates who have been demanding an amnesty and better conditions, a security source has said.

"A special team from the internal security forces is seeking to quell the uprising in Rumieh prison after assaulting it," the source said about Tuesday's developments.

"It has taken control of one building, where Islamists are held, and is trying to do the same with two other buildings."

State news agency NNA said the assault took place after negotiations broke down, but did not provide details.

Inmates of the overcrowded prison, east of the capital, Beirut, had been rioting for days, burning mattresses and breaking windows.

On Tuesday, inmates took three guards hostage in one of the buildings. In another building, prisoners set fire to highly flammable material inside the kitchen, triggering a blaze.

Thick black smoke billowed from the hilltop compound for several hours despite heavy rain.

Prisons chaplain Father Marwan Ghanem, who has been involved in negotiations to free the guards, told the AFP news agency that the detained men were in good health and were being treated well.

"Authorities have been able to contact them to make sure they are okay," he said. "The inmates consider them as brothers and are holding them just to pressure authorities to respond to their demands."

Detained without trial

The security official said the guards were not under threat and were simply being prevented from leaving an area of the prison.

"They are demanding an end to the overcrowding and a general pardon," the security source said. "There are people who have been detained for months and up to two years without trials."

Roumieh was originally built to hold about 1,500 inmates, but is now crammed with about 3,700.

On Tuesday, around 70 family members of the inmates protested outside the prison, and some had burnt tyres to cut off the main road leading to the complex.

They threw stones at the police who entered the jail complex in anti-riot gear on Tuesday.

Caretaker Interior Minister Ziad Baroud said he sympathised with the concerns of the prisoner families and ordered the establishment of a police office within Roumieh to address complaints.

He noted that of the 3,700 inmates currently at the prison, only 721 had been tried and convicted.

"I am very supportive of their demands," Baroud said. "We are working to deal with the matter without having one drop of blood spilled."

He said his ministry has been working to improve conditions at Rumieh for two years, and urged other ministries and the cabinet to follow suit by speeding up the trials process and providing finance.

Poor conditions in prisons and a slow judicial process have sparked several riots in Lebanese jails. Some prisoners can be incarcerated for years before their cases come to court.

Source:
Agencies
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