10 killed in latest Ecuador prison riot

At least 10 people died Friday in the latest prison unrest to hit violence-stricken Ecuador, where some 400 inmates have been killed since last year, the prison authority said.

The violence broke out at El Inca prison north of the capital, Quito, shortly after the government said it was moving two inmates it suspected of being the masterminds behind previous prison disturbances to a maximum security prison.

Police commander Victor Herrera told reporters the prison had been secured, with heavy security deployed as forensics personnel removed the bodies of those killed. Herrera said the cause of death "appeared to be strangulation."

One of the two prisoners whose relocation sparked the violence, Los Lobos gang leader Jonathan Bermudez, had been responsible for a previous massacre at El Inca, according to a statement from the president's office.

"We told them that our hand would not tremble," President Guillermo Lasso said of the transfer on Twitter on Friday, warning of "the same fate for those who continue with their attempts to break the peace of Ecuadorans."

In other tweets, the president posted photographs of inmates with their hands tied and others lying face-down in prison courtyards and corridors.

The SNAI prison authority said that "members of this criminal organization (Los Lobos) undertook violent reprisals" for the relocation of Bermudez to another prison.

"We will continue to act firmly and tirelessly to combat organized crime, which threatens the security and peace of Ecuadorans," it added.

Earlier this month, Lasso's government relocated some 2,400 inmates, triggering an uprising by gang members who went on shooting sprees and set off car bombs at gas stations and police stations.

Eight people, including five police members, were killed during the attacks in the port city of Guayaquil.

Lasso responded to those attacks by declaring a state of emergency and a night-time curfew in the provinces of Guayas, Esmeraldas and Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas.

He also ordered the deployment of troops to the three provinces, home to a third of Ecuador's 18 million people.

Since February 2021, Ecuador has experienced eight prison massacres that left about 400 dead, many of them beheaded or burnt.

The last gang-led prison riot was on November 8 in Quito, when five inmates died.

Once a relatively peaceful neighbor of major cocaine producers Colombia and Peru, Ecuador has gone from being a drug transit route to a vital distribution center wracked by drug violence.

Authorities blame the wave of violent crime on rival gangs with ties to Mexican cartels.

The murder rate in Ecuador nearly doubled in 2021 to 14 per 100,000 inhabitants, and reached 18 per 100,000 between January and October this year, according to official data.