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GUAYAQUIL/QUITO: More than 130 prison guards and other staff are being held hostage by inmates in at least five prisons around Ecuador, which is reeling from an escalation of violence in recent days.

President Daniel Noboa, who took office in November promising to tackle a growing security problem caused by drug trafficking gangs increasingly transporting cocaine through Ecuador, on Tuesday named 22 gangs as terrorist organizations, making them official military targets.

The hostage-takings, which began in the early hours of Monday, and the apparent escape of Los Choneros gang leader Adolfo Macias from prison over the weekend, spurred Noboa to declare a 60-day state of emergency.

He hardened the decree on Tuesday after a series of explosions around the country and a dramatic takeover of a TV station by gunmen live on air.

The government has said the violence is a reaction to Noboa’s plan to build a new high security prison for gang leaders.

Authorities have said little about the prison hostages, though the SNAI prisons agency has said guards account for 125 of the hostages, while 14 are administrative staff. Eleven people were freed on Tuesday, it said.

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