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Ecuador: All 178 prison staff held hostage freed

January 14, 2024

Violence erupted after Ecuador's president declared a state of emergency following a top drug gang leader's escape from prison.

A damaged pedestrian bridge
Violence erupted after President Daniel Noboa declared a state of emergency for 60 days, a day after drug gang leader Adolfo Macias disappeared from prisonImage: Karen Toro/REUTERS

All 178 prison officials taken hostage by inmates in Ecuador have been freed, the prisons authority on Saturday, amid a deteriorating security situation in the South American country.

According to the SNAI prisons authority, the 158 guards and 20 administrative staff members who had been held hostage since Monday were now free.

There were reports of violence in several prisons. Within the previous 24 hours one guard was killed and another injured, the SNAI said in a statement.

While the army and the police raided detention centers in six cities, five inmates escaped from the vast Guayaquil prison complex on Friday.

"Congratulations to the patriotic, professional and courageous work of the armed forces, national police and the SNAI ... for achieving the release of the prison guards and administrative staff held in the detention centers of Azuay, Canar, Esmeraldas, Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, El Oro and Loja," President Daniel Noboa said following the operation.

Ecuador declares war against drug violence

Macias' escape triggers state of emergency

The incidents came after President Noboa declared a state of emergency for 60 days on Monday, a day after Adolfo Macias, leader of the Los Choneros criminal gang, disappeared from the prison where he was serving a 34-year sentence.

Ecuador saw a spate of nationwide attacks within hours of Noboa's announcement, including gangsters taking several police officers hostage.

Masked gunmen also burst onto the set of a live broadcast by a public TV channel, while there were reports of explosions in several cities. 

President Noboa declared that the country was "at war" and refused to "cede in the face of these terrorist groups."

In November, when the 35-year-old came to power, he vowed to "restore peace" to violence-plagued Ecuador.

Authorities said over 800 arrests have been made so far.

ss/sms (AFP, Reuters)