Hundreds of relatives of inmates who died during a prison fire in Honduras have forced their way into a morgue in the capital, Tegucigalpa, to demand the remains of loved ones.
The group of women and some men pushed into the morgue, broke into a refrigerated container and opened at least six body bags, Melvin Duarte, a government official, said on Tuesday.
The fire in the overcrowded prison in the city of Comayagua, 75km north of Tegucigalpa, killed at least 359 prisoners on February 14.
The raid on the morgue happened as the government announced that a dropped cigarette may have set off the fire.
Witnesses have told officials that a prisoner fell asleep while smoking, dropping it to his mattress.
Luis Alberto Rubi, the chief prosecutor of Honduras, said that the accident theory was backed by experts of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
During Tuesday's confrontation, police used tear gas to chase the people from the site, Duarte said.
He said no one was injured although at least one woman fainted.
Duarte said the crowd got upset after seeing some bodies being laid on the street and then people burst into the mortuary.
"The bodies were about to be loaded onto a truck to be transferred to the medical school to continue with the process of identification,'' Duarte said.
With no mortuary large enough to accommodate the hundreds of corpses, body bags have been dumped on the back of lorries, and litter the ground at the site, the Reuters news agency reported.
"They are rotting. With no cool room, how are they going to return the bodies. My brother is already dead, return him, they've already killed him," one relative told Reuters.
There were 852 inmates at the prison in Comayagua built to hold less than half that.
Local radio reports said many inmates were burned to death in their cells.
A team of forensic doctors from across Latin America has identified 32 bodies so far. Of those, 16 have been turned over to their families.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|