Guatire: National Guard troops stormed a Venezuelan prison while seeking to disarm inmates days after a bloody riot in which at least 16 troops were wounded in gunfire as some prisoners resisted.

Bursts of gunfire erupted on Friday inside the El Rodeo I prison while hundreds of inmates' relatives wept desperately outside the prison, some of them shouting, "Help them!"

Troops used tear gas shells and water cannon to keep the relatives away from the prison as ambulances emerged to carry out the wounded.

At least 16 National Guard troops were wounded and hospitalized, including seven others who had been shot with high-powered weapons, said Nestor Reverol, a deputy Justice Minister.

" A few of those who are incarcerated here are resisting," Reverol told state television. He said they were in a prison tower and had refused to come down.

Fierce gunfire started inside the prison in what appeared be shootouts. A fire broke out in a prison tower, and then died down as the gunfire persisted. A military helicopter circled overhead.

"We can't permit anarchy in the penitentiary," Reverol said as the gunshots continued to be heard. "We demand the inmates change their attitude."

More than 3,500 troops were taking part in the operation in El Rodeo I and El Rodeo II prisons in Guatire, east of the capital, Caracas, and had about three-quarters of the prison population of more than 5,000 inmates under control, Reverol said.

(Agencies)