Siege convicts demand top guns

Jail dramas: Prison chief and TV crew held in Brazil n Woman judge seized in Argentina
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The Independent Online
To your average hostage-holding prisoner, the negotiators' offer might not have appeared too bad. Cash, getaway cars, guns and ammunition to ensure a clean getaway.

The two dozen Brazilian prisoners holding hostages in a jail south-west of Brasilia, however, were not satisfied. They demanded weapons more power- ful than the .38 pistols they were offered and souped-up cars able to outrun police pursuers.

The demands of the prisoners at the Agro-industrial penitentiary in Aparecida de Goiania have led to a tense stand-off and fears of a massacre if police move in. The inmates were yesterday still holding 23 hostages, including the prison director and a television crew, whom they seized during an inspection tour last Thursday.

The hostages were said to be surrounded by canisters of cooking oil, which the inmates were threatening to blow up.

Led by one of Brazil's best-known criminals, 25-year-old kidnapper Leonardo Pareja, the inmates took advantage of the inspection to grab hostages including prison director Nicola Limongi, local officials, police officers and the television crew. Although the inspection was to check reports of overcrowding - there were almost 1,000 prisoners in the jail instead of its 450 capacity - the hostage-takers' aim appeared to be simply to escape. The vast majority of the inmates did not take part and have been moved.

In full view of cameras, the hostage-takers staged a football match in the prison yard on Sunday, running around the pitch with pistols in their hands.

In an emotional appeal to police not to attack, Mr Limongi appeared on a prison wall with a pistol trained on him by an inmate. "Brazil doesn't need another Carandiru," he shouted, a reference to a 1992 massacre of more than 100 inmates after a prison riot in Sao Paulo. When the prisoner fired a shot in the air, watched by millions on live television, the prison director shouted "for the love of God" and sobbed as he asked his family to "forgive me for my mistakes". Looking on from police lines, his son shouted "have strength dad, I love you".

After a negotiating team met Pareja on Saturday, the authorities agreed to give the prisoners five cars, pistols, ammunition and about $25,000 in cash in return for the release of 18 hostages. The five remaining hostages would have left with the prisoners, one hostage in each car.

Pareja then demanded faster cars and "state of the art weaponry" and said that he would not talk again until today. Some police officers at the scene implied that the drama could be over by then but would not say why.

Meanwhile, four separate prison riots were reported in Argentina at the weekend after a failed break-out at one of the jail's. A woman judge who had tried to negotiate was among 15 hostages being held at the Sierra Chica prison near the town of Alavarria.

Inmates were demanding faster treatment of their cases, better conditions and greater visiting rights. The three other riots appeared to be in solidarity with the Sierra Chica rebellion. Like Sierra Chica, all were in Buenos Aires province.

Judge Maria Malere and her secretary were captured on Saturday when they went to speak with prisoners who had overpowered guards after a failed mass break-out.

The Sierra Chica prisoners were holding 10 wardens and three evangelical preachers. They handed over demands, including more relaxed visiting rules.

Relatives of the prisoners, mostly women, began gathering outside Sierra Chica early on Sunday and some were allowed briefly through the heavily armed cordon of guards.