(updates casualty figures, adds details)
A battle between heavily armed inmate gangs at the Yare I prison near Caracas left 25 people dead and 43 others injured, Venezuela's minister of penitentiaries said Monday.
Among those killed in Sunday's confrontation was an inmate's relative present for visiting day, while the toll of the injured includes 14 other visiting family members, Iris Varela said.
Authorities suspect the fight began when someone fired a shot as leaders of the rival gangs were holding a discussion, the minister told reporters.
The initial investigation also points to culpability on the part of both uniformed and civilian prison personnel and some inmates' relatives, Varela said.
"Those who put the guns here in the prison are just as responsible for the deaths as the people who pulled the triggers," she said, promising a "good investigation."
The Venezuelan government says the serious problem with weapons inside the country's vastly overcrowded prisons will be addressed as part of a restructuring of the penal system.
Violence in the Andean nation's prisons claimed 304 lives in the first half of the year, an increase of 15 percent over the same period in 2011, the independent Venezuelan Prisons Observatory said Monday.
Two days later, the Prisons Ministry reported that guards confiscated 22 firearms - including a submachine gun - and two tear-gas grenades from inmates at a penitentiary in the central state of Carabobo.
Also seized were more than 2,000 bullets, three knives, three computers, 98 cell phones and 98 packets of illegal drugs, ministry official Mary Pili Viera said.
The ministry was created a year ago after a month-long standoff between army troops and nearly 1,000 armed inmates at another prison on the outskirts of Caracas. EFE