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At Least 68 People Have Died In A Fire At A Police Station In Venezuela

Clashes later broke out between police and angry relatives of prisoners who died in the blaze.

Posted on March 29, 2018, at 8:03 a.m. ET

Juan Carlos Hernandez / AP

Relatives of prisoners fight with police officers as they wait for information outside a police station in Valencia, Venezuela, on Wednesday.

A fire at a police station in Venezuela has killed at least 68 people.

Violent scenes followed the fire on Wednesday, in the city of Valencia in Carabobo state, as relatives of the detained prisoners waited to find out if they had died.

Police could be seen using riot shields and Venezuelan media reported the use of tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Prosecutors have vowed to investigate the circumstances of the fire, reportedly sparked by rioting prisoners in the police station's cells.

Police use tear gas to disperse crowds desperate for news of loved ones after at least 68 people died in fire at police station in Valencia, Venezuela

Carlos Nieto, head of Una Ventana a la Libertad (A Window on Freedom), an association that monitors conditions in Venezuela's jails, said that a mattress was set alight in an attempted jailbreak, after a police officer had been shot in the leg. State official Jesús Santander confirmed that one person was shot.

Tarek William Saab, Venezuela's attorney general, said on Twitter that four separate investigations were underway and confirmed that 66 of those killed were male detainees, while two were female visitors.

3) En las indagaciones preliminares, los resultados arrojan el fallecimiento d 66 hombres y dos mujeres q se encontraban en calidad de visitantes (pernocta) A los mismos se les realizaron los respectivos protocolos d autopsia y entrega respectiva de los cuerpos a sus familiares

Santander said that the state would provide assistance to the bereaved families, including funeral costs, adding that the state was in mourning.

Sopa Images / Getty Images

Relatives of detainees in the police headquarters in the city of Valencia, in Carabobo state, wait to find out if their detained relatives are still alive.

Aida Parra, the mother of a prisoner, told the Spanish news agency EFE, "I don't know if my son is dead or alive! They haven't told me anything."

Media reports quoted workers at the scene as saying that the police facility only had official capacity for 60 detainees.

Sopa Images / Getty Images

Venezuela's prisons are chronically overfilled and rife with violence. According to the research organization InSight Crime, in 2015 there were almost 50,000 prisoners packed into 35 jails designed for a total of 19,000 detainees. Almost two-thirds of these were awaiting sentencing.

Nieto, of Una Ventana a la Libertad, said that police holding facilities were sometimes five times over capacity.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.