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BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz officials say about 10,000 inmates in prisons across the country are on hunger strike demanding better conditions in jails, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.

The hunger strike started in four major jails on March 25 and later spread to other penitentiaries.

Dozens of inmates' relatives picketed the parliament building today demanding authorities intervene to resolve the standoff.

Kazybek Umotov of the Penitentiary System Control Board told RFE/RL that in six prisons -- Nos. 1, 3, 8, 10, 16, and 19 -- almost all inmates are on hunger strike.

He said a smaller number of inmates joined the hunger strike in the country's remaining five prisons and six detention centers.

Umotov added that officials are doing their best to resolve the situation through negotiations.

The head of the Penitentiary System Control Board, Kalybek Kachkynaliev, told RFE/RL that the situation is under control. He said none of the striking inmates has any health problems at this point. He added that one inmate died over the weekend of a disease he had been fighting for months and his death is not related to the hunger strike.

Kachkynaliev also said that the ongoing hunger strike is illegal and has been organized and masterminded by the leaders of Kyrgyzstan's organized criminal groups.

Read more in Kyrgyz here
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