Thursday, April 8, 2004

Ecuador prison protests calm down

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) -- Protests in overcrowded prisons in five cities calmed down on Thursday, a national Easter week holiday, as inmates reviewed their demands but continued to hold three television reporters hostage.

Inmate leaders in seven prisons want reduced sentences and want prisoners from Spain and Colombia deported, conditions that Congress would have to pass laws to meet.

The relative calm came a day after at inmates at Quito's Jail No. 2 for men burned furniture and pelted police with rocks, injuring two officers.

Built to hold 300 inmates, Jail No. 2 now houses 600.

Protests by inmates broke out Sunday in at least seven prisons, two weeks after guards in Ecuador's 34 prisons went on strike demanding $10 million for improvements and back pay.

Some 150 visitors at Jail No. 2 and 130 visitors at Quito's women's prison joined the protests Sunday -- some voluntarily, some against their will. On Tuesday, inmates at the women's prison took three television crew members hostage.

Channel 10 reporter -- and hostage -- Daniel Montalvo spoke with The Associated Press by telephone Thursday.

"It is totally calm in the women's prison although there has been some discussion by inmates about the conditions of an agreement proposal," Montalvo said.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Raul Baca reiterated calls for the Congress, which was closed Thursday for the holiday, to end the protests.

Since the guards went on strike, inmates have been largely left on their own, receiving sporadic food shipments from the government and meals passed to them by police and relatives.

Police have maintained armed cordons around the prisons to prevent jailbreaks and monitored activity from rooftops.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.