LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) - At least 15 inmates were killed, many in a fire, early Friday in a battle among inmates for control of part of an overcrowded maximum-security prison in Bolivia's eastern lowlands, the national police chief said.
Chief Alberto Aracena said at least seven of the 50 injured were in critical condition after the melee began with the explosion of a propane gas canister that triggered a fire at the Palmasola prison outside the regional capital of Santa Cruz.
He said many bodies were burned and expected the death toll to rise.
"There was a fight for control in the prison in two cellblocks," Aracena told reporters. He said prisoners in Cellblock A had exploded a metal propane tank in Cellblock B around dawn. Radio Erbol reported from the scene that shots were heard after the explosion.
Prosecutors entered the prison to count the victims as ambulances evacuated the wounded. Some relatives of prisoners crowded around the ambulances, peering inside to see if they knew who was aboard.
Authorities said it took more than four hours to get the prison under control. At midday, a column of smoke continued to rise from the prison although officials said the fire had been controlled. Aracena said about 256 prisoners were evacuated.
As in many Latin American prisons, inmates largely control the inside of Palmasola, which teems with some 3,500 inmates, most awaiting trial.