Brazil prisoners clash with police where 26 inmates were butchered

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Brazilian police used rubber bullets and tear gas on Tuesday to break up a renewed clash between drug gangs in a prison where 26 inmates were butchered by rivals in recent days.

Major Eduardo Franco, spokesman for police in the state of Rio Grande do Norte where the Alcaçuz prison is located, said authorities managed to keep the rival gangs apart and so far prevent another massacre.

Brazil has been hit by a wave of deadly gang clashes in prisons in the north and northeast regions of the country since Jan. 1. At least 140 inmates have been killed in the intense violence.

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Prison riot at Alcacuz Penitentiary Center in Brazil
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Prison riot at Alcacuz Penitentiary Center in Brazil

Inmates are seen during confrontation between gangs at Alcacuz Penitentiary Center near Natal in Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil on January 19, 2017. Stick-wielding inmates hurled stones and lit fires Thursday in a Brazilian jail where dozens were previously massacred, as authorities struggled to contain a spreading wave of gang violence.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

Prisoners during a riot at the Alcacuz Penitentiary Center near Natal in Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil on January 17, 2017. Brazilian police fired rubber bullets Tuesday at inmates who have taken over a jail where dozens were massacred over the weekend in the latest in a string of prison riots. Police positioned on top of the outer walls of the Alcacuz jail near the northeastern city of Natal fired at a crowd of inmates who had taken control of part of the complex. A total of 26 prisoners were killed in Alcacuz -- many of them beheaded -- during a violent riot that broke out late Saturday, according to officials.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

Members of the special police battalion stand near makeshift barricades on fire in protest for the transfer of some 200 prisoners from the Alcacuz Penitentiary Center to other prisons in Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil on January 18, 2017. Brazilian authorities said Wednesday they are deploying 1,000 troops to 'clean out' arms and cellphones from restive prisons while police moved to end a deadly gang face-off in one northern penitentiary.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

Inmates stand on the prison roof waving a white flag during a rebellion in Alcacuz Penitentiary Center near Natal, Rio Grande do Norte state, northeastern Brazil on January 16, 2017. The latest in a string of brutal prison massacres involving suspected gang members in Brazil has killed 26 inmates, most of whom were beheaded. The bloodbath erupted Saturday night in the overcrowded Alcacuz prison in the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte. Similar violence at other jails in Brazil left around 100 inmates dead in early January.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

Prisoners during a riot at the Alcacuz Penitentiary Center near Natal in Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil on January 17, 2017. Brazilian police fired rubber bullets Tuesday at inmates who have taken over a jail where dozens were massacred over the weekend in the latest in a string of prison riots. Police positioned on top of the outer walls of the Alcacuz jail near the northeastern city of Natal fired at a crowd of inmates who had taken control of part of the complex. A total of 26 prisoners were killed in Alcacuz -- many of them beheaded -- during a violent riot that broke out late Saturday, according to officials.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

Prisoners cover themselves using makeshift shields as riot police agents (out of frame) fire rubber bullets during a rebellion at the Alcacuz Penitentiary Center near Natal in Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil on January 17, 2017. A deadly tumult exploded on Saturday at Natal's overcrowded jail, on Sunday, police had invaded the prison and ended a night riot. They found 26 prisoners killed, most of them beheaded. It was the third major massacre to hit Brazil's overcrowded jails this month, all of them thought to involve suspected drug gangs.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

Prisoners during a riot at the Alcacuz Penitentiary Center near Natal in Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil on January 17, 2017. Brazilian police fired rubber bullets Tuesday at inmates who have taken over a jail where dozens were massacred over the weekend in the latest in a string of prison riots. Police positioned on top of the outer walls of the Alcacuz jail near the northeastern city of Natal fired at a crowd of inmates who had taken control of part of the complex. A total of 26 prisoners were killed in Alcacuz -- many of them beheaded -- during a violent riot that broke out late Saturday, according to officials.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

Corpses are being removed from the Alcacuz Penitentiary after a fight between rival gangs left at least 30 prisoners dead on the eve, near Natal, in the Brazilian northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte, on January 15, 2017. The latest in a string of brutal prison massacres involving suspected gang members in Brazil is thought to have killed more than 30 people, including some who were beheaded, officials said Sunday.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

Prisioners celebrate the arrival of food after a negotiation with the police at the Alcacuz Penitentiary, near Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, on January 16, 2017. Authorities thought inmates at the Alcacuz jail near the northeastern city of Natal were under control following the quelling of a deadly riot that broke out Saturday, until some climbed to the roof on Monday. On Sunday, police had stormed the prison and ended a night-long riot. They found 26 prisoners dead, most of them beheaded, officials said.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

Relatives of inmates wait for news outside the Alcacuz Penitentiary after a fight between rival gangs left at least 30 prisoners dead on the eve, near Natal, in the Brazilian northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte, on January 15, 2017. The latest in a string of brutal prison massacres involving suspected gang members in Brazil is thought to have killed more than 30 people, including some who were beheaded, officials said Sunday.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

The leaders of the riot are transferred after a negotiation with the police at the Alcacuz Penitentiary, near Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, on January 16, 2017. Authorities thought inmates at the Alcacuz jail near the northeastern city of Natal were under control following the quelling of a deadly riot that broke out Saturday, until some climbed to the roof on Monday. On Sunday, police had stormed the prison and ended a night-long riot. They found 26 prisoners dead, most of them beheaded, officials said.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

Women relatives of inmates set makeshift barricades on fire in protest for the transfer of some 200 prisoners from the Alcacuz Penitentiary Center near Natal to other prisons in Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil on January 18, 2017. Brazilian authorities said Wednesday they are deploying 1,000 troops to 'clean out' arms and cellphones from restive prisons while police moved to end a deadly gang face-off in one northern penitentiary.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

Riot police agents group and approach to negociate with an inmate's delegate (R) during a rebellion at the Alcacuz Penitentiary Center near Natal, Rio Grande do Norte state, northeastern Brazil on January 16, 2017. The latest in a string of brutal prison massacres involving suspected gang members in Brazil has killed 26 inmates, most of whom were beheaded. The bloodbath erupted Saturday night in the overcrowded Alcacuz prison in the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte. Similar violence at other jails in Brazil left around 100 inmates dead in early January.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

View of the Alcacuz Penitentiary Center near Natal, Rio Grande do Norte state, northeastern Brazil where a riot is thought to have killed more than 30 people, some of them beheaded on January 14, 2017. Officials said Sunday members of two separate drug gangs had come out of different parts of the prison and clashed violently.

(JOHANNES MYBURGH/AFP/Getty Images)

An inmate of the Alcacuz Penitentiary Center holds a handmade prison weapon during a rebellion near Natal, Rio Grande do Norte state, northeastern Brazil on January 16, 2017. The latest in a string of brutal prison massacres involving suspected gang members in Brazil has killed 26 inmates, most of whom were beheaded. The bloodbath erupted Saturday night in the overcrowded Alcacuz prison in the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte. Similar violence at other jails in Brazil left around 100 inmates dead in early January.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

Inmates stand on the prison roof during a rebellion in Alcacuz Penitentiary Center near Natal, Rio Grande do Norte state, northeastern Brazil on January 16, 2017. The latest in a string of brutal prison massacres involving suspected gang members in Brazil has killed 26 inmates, most of whom were beheaded. The bloodbath erupted Saturday night in the overcrowded Alcacuz prison in the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte. Similar violence at other jails in Brazil left around 100 inmates dead in early January.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

Inmates remove bodies from the roof of the Alcacuz Penitentiary after a fight between rival gangs left at least 30 prisoners dead on the eve, near Natal, in the Brazilian northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte, on January 15, 2017. The latest in a string of brutal prison massacres involving suspected gang members in Brazil is thought to have killed more than 30 people, including some who were beheaded, officials said Sunday.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

An inmate walks through the vandalised facilities of the Alcacuz Penitentiary Center during a rebellion near Natal, Rio Grande do Norte state, northeastern Brazil on January 16, 2017. The latest in a string of brutal prison massacres involving suspected gang members in Brazil has killed 26 inmates, most of whom were beheaded. The bloodbath erupted Saturday night in the overcrowded Alcacuz prison in the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte. Similar violence at other jails in Brazil left around 100 inmates dead in early January.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

Inmates get to the prison roof during a rebellion in Alcacuz Penitentiary Center near Natal, Rio Grande do Norte state, northeastern Brazil on January 16, 2017. The latest in a string of brutal prison massacres involving suspected gang members in Brazil has killed 26 inmates, most of whom were beheaded. The bloodbath erupted Saturday night in the overcrowded Alcacuz prison in the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte. Similar violence at other jails in Brazil left around 100 inmates dead in early January.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

An inmate looks on as riot police agents group at the Alcacuz Penitentiary Center during a rebellion near Natal, Rio Grande do Norte state, northeastern Brazil on January 16, 2017. The latest in a string of brutal prison massacres involving suspected gang members in Brazil has killed 26 inmates, most of whom were beheaded. The bloodbath erupted Saturday night in the overcrowded Alcacuz prison in the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte. Similar violence at other jails in Brazil left around 100 inmates dead in early January.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

Prisoners during a riot at the Alcacuz Penitentiary Center near Natal in Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil on January 17, 2017. Brazilian police fired rubber bullets Tuesday at inmates who have taken over a jail where dozens were massacred over the weekend in the latest in a string of prison riots. Police positioned on top of the outer walls of the Alcacuz jail near the northeastern city of Natal fired at a crowd of inmates who had taken control of part of the complex. A total of 26 prisoners were killed in Alcacuz -- many of them beheaded -- during a violent riot that broke out late Saturday, according to officials.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

Prisoners during a riot at the Alcacuz Penitentiary Center near Natal in Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil on January 17, 2017. Brazilian police fired rubber bullets Tuesday at inmates who have taken over a jail where dozens were massacred over the weekend in the latest in a string of prison riots. Police positioned on top of the outer walls of the Alcacuz jail near the northeastern city of Natal fired at a crowd of inmates who had taken control of part of the complex. A total of 26 prisoners were killed in Alcacuz -- many of them beheaded -- during a violent riot that broke out late Saturday, according to officials.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

Prisoners during a riot at the Alcacuz Penitentiary Center near Natal in Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil on January 17, 2017. Brazilian police fired rubber bullets Tuesday at inmates who have taken over a jail where dozens were massacred over the weekend in the latest in a string of prison riots. Police positioned on top of the outer walls of the Alcacuz jail near the northeastern city of Natal fired at a crowd of inmates who had taken control of part of the complex. A total of 26 prisoners were killed in Alcacuz -- many of them beheaded -- during a violent riot that broke out late Saturday, according to officials.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

Corpses are being removed in the Alcacuz Penitentiary after a fight between rival gangs left at least 30 prisoners dead on the eve, near Natal, in the Brazilian northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte, on January 15, 2017. The latest in a string of brutal prison massacres involving suspected gang members in Brazil is thought to have killed more than 30 people, including some who were beheaded, officials said Sunday.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

An inmate with his face covered stands on the prison roof during a rebellion in Alcacuz Penitentiary Center near Natal, Rio Grande do Norte state, northeastern Brazil on January 16, 2017. The latest in a string of brutal prison massacres involving suspected gang members in Brazil has killed 26 inmates, most of whom were beheaded. The bloodbath erupted Saturday night in the overcrowded Alcacuz prison in the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte. Similar violence at other jails in Brazil left around 100 inmates dead in early January.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

Inmates are seen during confrontation between gangs at Alcacuz Penitentiary Center near Natal in Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil on January 19, 2017. Fresh fighting erupts among inmates at Brazilian jail.

(ANDRESSA ANHOLETE/AFP/Getty Images)

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President Michel Temer's office said the federal government decided on Tuesday to allow Army troops to reinforce security at state prisons if governors made requests. As of late Tuesday afternoon, no governors had requested such help.

The soldiers would be limited to inspecting the prisons and confiscating weapons, drugs and other contraband, along with searching visitors entering the facilities. They would avoid any sort of longer-term occupation of penitentiaries.

Security officials said members of Brazil's most powerful drug gang, the First Capital Command (PCC), who last Saturday started a riot in Alcaçuz and murdered 26 members of a rival gang, many of whom they beheaded, tried to invade their enemies' prison wing again early Tuesday afternoon.

Images broadcast live on Globo TV showed prisoners from both the PCC and the local gang "Crime Union of RN" - RN being the Portuguese initials for Rio Grande do Norte state - atop the roofs of their respective wings, waving banners with gang insignia and wielding knives, clubs and other homemade weapons.

Scores of prisoners were seen running free within the prison - clearly indicating that security officials did not have control of the prison, which Franco said they had regained on Monday night.

On Jan. 1, the powerful North Family gang, which largely controls a lucrative cocaine drug route along the Solimoes River in the Amazon that flows into Colombia and Peru, the world's top two cocaine-producing nations, killed 56 inmates at a prison in Amazonas state, mostly PCC members.

The PCC retaliated on Jan. 6 by killing 33 inmates at the Monte Cristo prison in the Amazonian state of Roraima, before carrying out the most recent killings this past weekend.

The clashes are the result of a split between the PCC and Brazil's second-most powerful gang, the Rio de Janeiro-based Red Command.

For more than 20 years the two gangs maintained an uneasy working relationship, ensuring that a steady flow of drugs and arms easily made its way over Brazil's porous borders with cocaine and marijuana-producing nations.

But about six months ago, security officials and experts say, the PCC moved to assume full control over trafficking routes and tried to push the Red Command aside.

The Red Command responded by forming alliances with smaller regional gangs - including the North Family and Crime Union of RN.

Brazil's 1,400 prisons - badly overcrowded and for decades the source of sharp criticism for medieval conditions and human rights abuses - are largely under the control of state governments, which seem unable to stop the gang war.

Authorities have started transferring the leaders of the uprisings to undisclosed prisons where they are placed in isolation.

But in the past this has proved ineffective and also stoked gang anger, prompting the PCC in particular to take the violence outside the prisons and onto the streets of major cities.

President Temer told Reuters in a Monday interview that the government plans to build 30 prisons, hopefully within one year, to ease the severe crowding in Brazil's penitentiaries.

(Additional reporting by Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo; Writing by Brad Brooks; Editing by Matthew Lewis)


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