Venezuela to compensate relatives of 68 killed in jail fire


Caracas (AFP)

Venezuela's government said Friday it will compensate the relatives of scores of prisoners and a couple of visitors who died this week when a fire engulfed an overcrowded police headquarters' jail.

The statement by the foreign ministry also said authorities have been ordered to probe the blaze that happened Wednesday in the state police facility in the country's third-biggest city of Valencia.

A total of 68 people died in the fire -- 66 male prisoners and two female visitors.

A prisoners' rights group, Una Ventana a la Libertad (A Window on Freedom), said the prisoners had set fire to mattresses in an attempt to break out of the jail.

The foreign ministry statement said "means of compensation" had been agreed for the affected families.

Police sources told AFP on Friday that all but eight of the bodies had been claimed by relatives.

The UN's human rights office in Switzerland had said Thursday it was "appalled at the horrific deaths" and called for a complete investigation. It had also demanded compensation be paid to the families.

The government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro rejected the "precipitate and disproportional" comments of the UN office.

It alleged there was "a multi-faceted assault being deployed against our country making rude and vile use of the issue of human rights."

Venezuela's prisons suffer from dire overcrowding and a shortage of basic supplies, struggling under the deepening economic crisis that is gripping the once-wealthy oil-producing country.

Una Ventana a la Libertad estimates that the temporary detention cells in Venezuela's police stations are at five times their capacity. They are often used to house overflow convicts from similarly crowded penitentiaries.