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Ecuador prison violence leaves at least 68 dead, dozens injured

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November 14, 2021

By Alexandra Valencia and Yury Garcia

GUAYAQUIL (Reuters) – At least 68 prisoners were killed and more than two dozen injured in overnight violence at Ecuador’s Penitenciaria del Litoral prison, the government said on Saturday, in what officials characterize as fights among rival gangs.

The penitentiary, located in the southern city of Guayaquil, is the same prison where 119 inmates were killed in late September in the country’s worst incident of prison violence in recent history.

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The government has blamed disputes between drug trafficking gangs for control of prisons for the violence.

Dozens were gathered outside the prison on Saturday afternoon waiting for news of loved ones, who many said they had not heard from since Friday afternoon.

Cristina Monserrat, 58, still has not heard from her younger brother who has been in prison for a year.

“What is happening inside is reprehensible, people killing each other and the saddest thing is they have no conscience,” said Monserrat. “My brother is alive, my heart tells me so.”

President Guillermo Lasso, Monserrat added, must do more to help the poor. Ecuador’s prison system has come under harsh spotlight in recent years for overcrowding and poor sanitary and living conditions for inmates.

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Lasso in September declared a 60-day state of emergency in the prison system, which freed up government funding and allowed for military assistance in control of the prisons.

On Saturday, the president called on the constitutional court to allow the military to enter prisons, instead of providing only outside security. The court responded in a statement that a solution to the prison crisis will require more than temporary emergency measures.

Further disturbances in the penitentiary in the afternoon were under control by Saturday night, the government said, adding it was meeting with rights groups and the United Nations to handle the situation.

WAVE OF DISTURBANCES

The latest disturbance was set off by a power vacuum following a gang leader’s release, governor of Guayas province Pablo Arosemena said in a press conference earlier in the day.

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“The context of this situation is that there was no leader of the gang that has this cell block because a few days ago that prisoner was released,” Arosemena said. “Other cell blocks with other groups wanted to control them, get inside and have a total massacre.”

Videos on social media purportedly posted by detainees overnight showed them begging for help to stop the violence as shots and explosions sounded in the background. Reuters could not independently verify the origin of the videos.

There has been a wave of disturbances in the South American country’s prisons, which house some 39,000 detainees, since the December 2020 killing of ‘Rasquina,’ the leader of the Los Choneros gang, months after he was released from prison.

His death, officials said at the time, prompted less well-known gangs to compete for influence over the country’s prisons. Gang rivalries are connected to competition for drug trafficking alliances with international cartels, ex-officials said.

Officials said a February incident which killed 79 detainees was a response to Rasquina’s death. Another 22 people died in a July riot.

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Prisoners at least two other prisons in Azuay and Cotopaxi provinces were refusing food in a hunger strike on Saturday in solidarity with inmates at Litoral, the SNAI prison authority said on Twitter.

Some of those killed in the September violence at Penitenciaria del Litoral were decapitated or burned, the attorney general’s office has said, and dozens were injured.

“I don’t know anything, what we ask for are answers,” said Estefania, who declined to give her surname, and said her husband is jailed for a robbery. “I don’t know if he’s alive or dead.”

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia in Quito and Yury Garcia in Guayaquil; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; editing by Diane Craft and Aurora Ellis)

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Russian court remands mine director, inspectors in custody after deadly accident

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A court in Siberia on Saturday remanded five people in custody for two months to face charges related to a mining accident that killed more than 50 people this week.

Three managers of the Listvyazhnaya mine, including its director, were ordered to remain in custody until late January for flouting industrial safety standards, a spokesperson for the regional prosecutor’s office said.

The court also ordered two safety inspectors, who had issued a certificate for the mine this month but had not actually checked the facility, to remain in custody until late January.

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The accident, which regional authorities say was likely caused by a methane explosion, claimed the lives of 51 people, including five rescuers who were sent to bring out dozens of men stuck deep underground.

The health ministry said on Saturday that 60 people were being treated in hospital for injuries sustained at the mine, TASS news agency reported.

The accident at the mine, located some 3,500 km (2,200 miles) east of Moscow in the Kemerovo region, was Russia’s worst since 2010 when explosions killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same region.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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Russia spy chief says Ukraine invasion plan ‘malicious’ U.S. propaganda

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine and suggestions to the contrary are malicious U.S. propaganda, Moscow’s foreign intelligence chief said on Saturday.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials have raised the alarm in recent weeks over what they say are unusual Russian troop movements near the border with Ukraine, suggesting that Moscow may be poised to launch an attack.

Russia has repeatedly said it is free to move its troops on its own territory and that such movements should not be a cause for concern.

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“I need to reassure everyone. Nothing like this is going to happen,” Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, said in an interview broadcast on state television, referring to comments on Russia’s alleged invasion plans.

“Everything that is happening around this topic right now is of course malicious propaganda by the U.S. State Department.”

Naryshkin spoke a day after the State Department’s top U.S. diplomat for European affairs said all options were on the table in how to respond to Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine’s border and that NATO would decide on the next move after consultations next week.

While U.S. officials have voiced concerns about a possible Russian attack on Ukraine, Moscow has accused Washington, Kyiv and NATO of provocative and irresponsible behaviour near its borders.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Spanish police march in Madrid to protest against ‘Gag Law’ reform

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November 27, 2021

By Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo

MADRID (Reuters) – Thousands of Spanish police officers marched through Madrid on Saturday to protest against a proposed reform of a security law which they say will hamper their ability to do their work.

Politicians from Spain’s three main conservative parties joined police officers in the protest against proposed changes to the 2015 Citizens Security Law, which critics say violates the right to protest and limits free expression.

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Dubbed the “Gag Law” by those who oppose it, the legislation allows authorities to fine media organisations for distributing unauthorised images of police, strictly limits demonstrations and imposes heavy fines for offenders.

Spain’s leftist government has proposed reforms including no longer classifying the taking of photographs or making of recordings of police at demonstrations as a serious offence.

Under the changes, police will also have to use less harmful materials at protests after a number of people were seriously injured by rubber bullets fired by officers.

The time that suspects who are arrested at protests can be held in custody will be cut from six hours to two and fines will be proportional to how much offenders earn.

“They should either leave the current law as it is or make it better for the police and for the citizens,” Civil Guard officer Vanessa Gonzalez told Reuters.

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Ivan Espinosa de los Monteros, of the far-right Vox party, said: “There is strong opposition against (the reform) of this law. It is against our police and we will not let it happen.”

However, Isa Serra, spokeswoman for the far-left Unidas Podemos party, said at a rally in Cantabria in northern Spain that the law had done a “lot of damage to Spanish democracy”.

Organisers said 150,000 people took part in the Madrid demonstration but the government put the figure at 20,000.

(Reporting by Graham Keeley, Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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