ISTANBUL - Thirteen prisoners died from smoke inhalation after inmates started a fire during a mutiny in a jail in southeastern Turkey, officials said Sunday.
The prisoners set fire to blankets and beds in a cell in the Sanliurfa city prison late Saturday, but it was brought under control before it could spread throughout the jail, which holds 1,000 inmates, the Anatolia news agency reported, quoting governor Celalettin Guvenc.
Another five prisoners were hospitalised, as well as 12 prison staff who were injured during the rescue.
The fire broke out during a fight in a dormitory with 18 inmates, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told media, relaying a survivor's account.
"I was also informed by the governor that the conditions in the cell were not suitable to accommodate 18 inmates," he added.
After an initial investigation, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin noted that there was resistance from the prisoners when security forces tried to remove them.
"Entrance to the room was physically blocked by beds stashed at the door, which they set on fire," he said, adding that the five rescued survivors were on lower bunks, closer to the exit.
Sanliurfa, the city's largest jail, reportedly had an initial capacity of around 250, but was upped to 600 in recent years with additional bunk beds.
The mutiny may have been in protest at poor conditions and lack of air conditioning, the NTV news channel reported earlier, citing prison sources.
Local media frequently criticise conditions at the jail, which also holds several political prisoners including a lawmaker from the opposition Peace and Democracy Party, security sources told AFP.
The fire broke out in a cell for ordinary prisoners.
Police and gendarmerie were deployed as large crowds gathered outside the jail.
Police blocked road access and resorted to pepper spray to disperse angry families demanding to be informed of the dead prisoners' identities.
Families were allowed to visit their relatives on Sunday after calm was restored in the prison where news of the deaths had spread panic and protests.
An investigation was under way to establish what happened.
In September 2010, a political prisoner set himself on fire in the same prison after he was transferred to the ordinary prisoners' section, triggering protests from other inmates, but no one was killed.
The government has commissioned 196 new prisons to be built throughout the country, including a large establishment in Sanliurfa, within the next five years, according to the justice minister.