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Indonesia replaces top warden at riot-hit prison

Indonesian riot policemen gather near Kerobokan prison in Denpasar, Indonesia, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. Indonesia started moving foreigners and a handful of other inmates from the overcrowded prison on Bali island Thursday after two days of rioting, officials said, as troops backed by water canons and armored vehicles surrounded the tense facility. Photo: Firdia Lisnawati / AP

BALI, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia replaced a top warden at a tense, overcrowded prison on Bali island Friday after days of rioting forced the transfers of dozens of foreign inmates, women and children.

Tensions had eased, but all roads leading to the jail were blocked. Hundreds of security forces, backed by watercanons stationed outside the front gates, were on high alert.

The violence that started late Tuesday at the Kerobokan jail — which houses more than 1,000 drug traffickers, sex offenders and other violent criminals — was triggered by the stabbing of an inmate during a brawl a week ago. The prisoners blamed lax security for allowing a knife into the prison.

In the days that followed, inmates chased away all 13 guards and seized full control of the compound, said Beny Arjanto, the local police chief. Some set fires and tried to break down the entrance gate. Others climbed to the top of the watch tower and started throwing rocks and a Molotov cocktail at soldiers and police stationed outside.

Soldiers and police responded by firing tear gas and shooting into the air.

A few people were hurt, but none seriously.

Worried that foreigners, women and children would be taken hostage by rioters and used as bargaining chips, the government started voluntary evacuations on Thursday.

So far more than 30 have been loaded into trucks and driven to another prison on the island, said Col. Wing Handoko, a military spokesman.

A dozen were foreigners who protested the move, saying trying to adjust to another prison would be too hard.

Following lengthy negotiations, they were brought back to Kerobokan, which was badly damaged in the rioting. Desks and chairs in the main offices were overturned, windows were broken and torched hallways were covered in black soot.

“We finally agreed to bring them back,” Handoko said Friday. “But if the situation worsens again, we will not hesitate to evacuate them by force.”

Other, wider transfers are expected later.

Australian Myuran Sukumaran said from a tower inside the prison he felt safe. “It’s good here,” he said Friday. One of the defendants in the “Bali Nine” drug-smuggling case, he faces the death penalty over the 2005 plot to smuggle heroin from Indonesia to Australia.

Australian embassy staff have been sent to Bali to help the inmates.

The riots at the prison on one of the most famous island resorts in the world got attention worldwide.

Located just 20 minutes from the international airport, it was built for around 300 prisoners but houses more than three times that. Of the 60 or so foreigners, 12 are Australian and one is American.

Komang Gede Arya, a local justice ministry official, said the government had officially removed the chief warden and the head of security on Friday for failing to control the violence.