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November 10, 2012 12:00:00 AM
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At least 13 people were killed and another 32 wounded at Sri Lanka's main prison Friday after inmates overpowered guards and fought gun battles with elite police commandos, officials said.

Clashes erupted as elite police Special Task Force (STF) commandos carried out a search inside Colombo's Welikada prison for drugs and smuggled mobile phones, a military official at the scene told AFP.

"Some of the inmates grabbed weapons and have used them," the officer said, asking not to be named. "We have ringed the prison and closed the adjoining Baseline road to make sure civilians don't get hit by gunfire."

Colombo National Hospital director Anil Jasinghe said 13 people were dead on admission.

"Forty five people were brought in and 13 of them were already dead," Jasinghe told AFP. "Six people are in a critical condition. Three of them have undergone surgery and are now in intensive care."

It was the worst riot at the maximum security Welikada jail since July 1983 when more than 50 ethnic Tamil prisoners were massacred by majority Sinhalese prisoners during anti-Tamil riots that had gripped the country.

The identity of Friday's victims was not immediately clear, but witnesses said the dead appeared to be inmates.

Some of the inmates got onto a roof and fired at troops and police on the ground. Police and troops fired back, witnesses said.

The stand off between rioting inmates and security personnel lasted several hours. Convicts left the roof as the area plunged in darkness after the authorities switched off electricity in the area.

Troops used armoured vehicles to move in reinforcements as inmates kept on firing, witnesses said.

Jasinghe said the head of the STF, deputy inspector-general R. M. Ranawana, had suffered gunshot injuries and was being treated at the hospital.

There was similar violence at the same penitentiary in January when 25 inmates and four guards were wounded.

In 2010, more than 50 police and prison guards were wounded in a riot during another raid to seize illegal mobile phones.


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