CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Gunfire erupted at a Venezuelan prison on Tuesday, prompting National Guard troops to use tear gas as they sought to take back control from armed inmates.
Venezuela's government is trying to close La Planta prison following two escape attempts and complaints of overcrowding, saying the facility doesn't meet standards. About half of the prison's inmates have already been transferred to other lockups, but a group of armed inmates have effectively kept the authorities out of the prison since late last month.
Top prisons official Iris Varela said that a small group of inmates has been resisting being transferred. She said heavy gunfire erupted on Tuesday, with inmates firing from inside the prison.
Dozens of troops in anti-riot gear gathered outside, and clouds of tear gas floated in the air over the prison.
Hundreds of prisoners' relatives, worried by the gunfire, stood outside. Some of them wept.
Varela appealed for calm. She urged the resisting inmates to "give up their violent attitude, listen to their relatives."
"We know there are some who are resisting the evacuation," Varela said on state television. "However, they aren't right to be acting in that violent way."
She said one vehicle used by authorities was hit by a bullet.
However, no one was hurt, said Reinaldo Rangel, a national prisons administrator.
Some of the inmates' relatives outside the prison hurled rocks and other objects at the National Guard troops, who responded by using tear gas. Firefighters said at least eight people received medical help after inhaling tear gas.
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