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Police enter prison to quell Brazil gang clash

| Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, 9:39 p.m.

NATAL, Brazil — Military police entered a prison in northeastern Brazil on Saturday, establishing tenuous control after a week of chaos and fighting between rival gangs that left 26 inmates dead.

The unrest was the latest in a spate of violence in the country's penitentiaries, in which at least 126 people have been killed since the beginning of the year. The fighting is typically between members of rival gangs that compete for control of drug trafficking routes outside prison walls.

A week after inmates first rioted at Alcacuz prison, riot police and other forces moved into the complex outside the city of Natal on Saturday. As a helicopter flew overhead, an armored vehicle also entered the complex and later construction equipment was brought in. Authorities would not say how many officers entered the complex, but an Associated Press reporter saw about 40 go in.

A few hours after the operation began, Maj. Eduardo Franco, a military police spokesman, said the complex was again under police control.

But Col. Andre Azevedo, general commander of the Military Police in Rio Grande do Norte state, painted a bleak picture of the situation inside, saying that the entire system had broken down and maintaining control would be an ongoing battle. Many of the inmates are armed.

“Every time the police enter ... they take away weapons that they find, but this is not enough to guarantee that tomorrow there won't be weapons,” he told reporters late Saturday. In the vast complex, prisoners can easily find or make weapons, he said.

In the confrontation at Alcacuz, 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.

Police forces have begun building a wall of shipping containers to separate rival prisoners from one another. Eventually, the temporary measure will be replaced with a concrete wall.

In the violence, many of the dead were dismembered, and investigators from the medical examiner's office on Saturday found several body parts, including a full skull, parts of two other skulls and other bones. Given the state of decomposition of the skulls, the office said they belonged to people killed in the violence a week ago.

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