RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Inmates threw rocks at each other and set up barriers Thursday inside a Brazilian penitentiary where 26 prisoners were recently killed in confrontations, raising tensions amid a wave of prison massacres that have rocked Latin America's largest nation.
Live images on Globo television showed hundreds of prisoners in the yard of Alcacuz Penitentiary outside the northeast city of Natal. Inmates appeared to be separating themselves into two groups with makeshift barriers of pieces of wood, mattresses and other material. Injured prisoners were seen being carried off. No prison guards could be seen.
"We need help immediately," Robinson Faria, the governor of the state of Rio Grande do Norte, told CBN radio.
Faria said he had asked President Michel Temer to immediately dispatch troops from the Armed Forces. Beyond the prison, Faria said he wanted the troops to help patrol the streets of Natal, where several buses were burned late Wednesday. Authorities said they were investigating whether the burning was connected to turmoil in the prison.
Maj. Eduardo Franco, a military police spokesman, told The Associated Press that both a riot squad and an elite special forces group were on hand and could be called on to intervene. Up until now, police were only guarding the outside of the prison to keep inmates from escaping and shooting tear gas to break up fighting.
"We are avoiding a direct confrontation with the gangs," said Franco. "Military police are only using non-lethal weapons so we don't get blamed if dead bodies are found later."
Franco said several inmates had been injured, but he didn't know how many and said it was too soon to know if any had died.
Confrontations between two gangs in the prison erupted over the weekend, resulting in the 26 deaths. Many of the dead were dismembered. Authorities said members of the Sao Paulo-based First Command, Brazil's largest criminal gang, known by the Portuguese acronym PCC, fought with local gang Crime Syndicate of Rio Grande do Norte.
On Wednesday, a heavily armed military police force entered the prison without violence. Authorities said they transferred 220 inmates to other prisons to avoid more clashes.
Brazil is experiencing a wave of prison killings from warring gangs. At least 126 people have died since the beginning of the year.
Security experts say the trigger was the breakup of a long truce last year between the PCC and Red Command, a large gang based in Rio de Janeiro. They say several smaller gangs are forming alliances with the Red Command to slow the PCC's reach.