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Prison uprising ends peacefully in Venezuela after 27 days as inmates surrender
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) ' A 27-day prison uprising ended without bloodshed on Wednesday as hundreds of inmates emerged from the embattled Rodeo II prison after negotiations with authorities, Venezuelan authorities said.
Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said on state television that the National Guard had taken control of the prison from inmates and that "we've managed for all of them to come down to the patios."
"We celebrate the triumph of peace, dialogue," El Aissami said. He added that the standoff had been resolved after long negotiations with the rebelling inmates and that authorities had guaranteed prisoners that they would not be harmed.
After regaining control of the facility, authorities searched for inmates' weapons, El Aissami said.
Hundreds of inmates had been holed up inside the prison just outside the capital of Caracas since June 17 while armed prisoners resisted authorities. Information Minister Andres Izarra wrote via Twitter that 831 inmates had come out of the prison.
Officials have said that about 60 armed inmates were leading the uprising, preventing troops from entering and holding other prisoners.
President Hugo Chavez, in a message on Twitter, congratulated authorities for peacefully bringing an end to the standoff. He called it an "example of supreme respect for human rights," while also saying the ordeal has been cause for "great self-criticism."
Grisel Zorrilla, a spokeswoman for prisoners' relatives, told The Associated Press that the inmates were being taken out of the prison and that they all appeared well.
The inmates began the standoff after thousands of troops stormed adjacent El Rodeo I prison in a weapons search days after a bloody riot that left 22 dead, including one prisoner. The action set off gunfights between troops and inmates, leaving one prisoner and two National Guard soldiers dead, as well as 20 soldiers wounded.
Last month's search turned up seven rifles, five shotguns, 20 handguns, eight hand grenades, 5,000 rifle cartridges, 53 kilograms (116 pounds) of cocaine and the equivalent of more than $24,000 in Venezuelan currency, according to authorities.
An investigation following the raid led to the arrests of a prison warden, a National Guard captain whose unit patrolled the prison and seven other officials. They were charged with supplying arms, explosives and drugs to inmates.
Venezuela's severely crowded prisons have suffered repeated violent outbursts as rival gangs fight for control of cellblocks and sell weapons and drugs with the help of corrupt prison guards.
The country's 30 prisons were built to hold about 12,500 prisoners but instead hold about 49,000, according to the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory, a group that monitors prison conditions.
Last year, 476 people died and 967 were injured in prison violence, according to figures compiled by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
(This version CORRECTS spelling of relative's first name, Grisel.)