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Venezuela halts prison admissions

Holding cells in Venezuelan police stations have begun to fill up a week after a government order to temporarily halt new admissions to the country's overcrowded and violent prisons.

Some police chiefs said the lock-ups in their stations are either at capacity or nearly full as a result of the order for prisons to stop accepting new inmates for a month.

The order came last week from President Hugo Chavez's newly appointed prisons minister, Iris Varela.

Police Chief Manuel Furelos of Caracas' Sucre district said many local police forces are running out of room in their holding cells.

"All of the municipal and state ... police are having that problem," Mr Furelos said.

Opposition politicians were also highly critical of Ms Varela's order. Carlos Ocariz, the opposition mayor of Sucre, said in a statement that the local police station is now about 80% full.

"With this measure, the human rights of detainees are being violated. Viable measures should be used to deal with the prison crisis," Mr Ocariz said.

Attorney general Luisa Ortega Diaz defended Ms Varela's decision, saying it aims to "humanise the penitentiary system".

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