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Scores die in Chile prison fire

A fire which broke out during a riot in a severely overcrowded Chilean prison has killed more than 80 inmates.

Although more than 200 prisoners were moved to safety, 147 others were in the immediate area of the blaze, and many died of asphyxiation.

The San Miguel prison outside the capital Santiago was designed to hold 700 people but was crammed with 1,900 prisoners when the fire broke out.

"The conditions that existed inside this prison are absolutely inhumane," said Chilean President Sebastian Pinera after visiting the scene.

It was visitors' day at the prison, and many family members were already queuing up outside when the fire broke out.

Their anxiety spilled over when they learned that prisoners were killed. Some broke down in tears and screams, while others threw rocks at the prison police director as he read the survivors' names over a megaphone.

Hundreds of anxious and angry relatives of inmates gathered outside the prison gates. Some said that prison police initially closed the gates to firefighters, impeding efforts by 10 responding units to control the blaze.

National prison police director Luis Masferrer said the blaze broke out at about 5.30am and it was brought under control three hours later.

Chile's health minister, Jaime Manalich, called it an "enormous calamity," "probably the worst in the history of our penitentiary system."

Firefighters said they were alerted to the fire by a call from a mobile phone inside the prison.

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