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RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - At least one inmate was killed when members of different Brazilian drug gangs clashed at a northeastern prison overnight, authorities said on Thursday, part of a surge in gang violence in prisons that has killed around 140 in less than three weeks.

Prisoners fought, burnt mattresses and ripped down part of the roof in one of the blocks of the Caico prison in the state of Rio Grande do Norte before being suppressed by guards, a spokesperson for the state's security secretariat said.

Five inmates were injured in the clashes.

Hours earlier heavily armed police entered another prison in Rio Grande do Norte to separate warring factions, whose clashes in recent days killed 26 inmates.

Brazil has been hit by a wave of deadly gang clashes in prisons in the north and northeast regions since the start of the year. At least 140 inmates have been killed in the violence, many decapitated or mutilated.

The clashes are the result of a split between Brazil's most powerful drug gang, the First Capital Command, or PCC, and the second-most powerful gang, the Rio de Janeiro-based Red Command.

The disturbances began on Jan. 1 with a clash in a Manaus prison in Amazonas state where the powerful North Family gang killed 56 inmates, mostly PCC members.

The North Family largely controls a cocaine drug route along the Solimoes River in the Amazon that flows into Colombia and Peru, the world's top two cocaine-producing nations.

The PCC retaliated five days later by killing 33 inmates at the Monte Cristo prison in the Amazonian state of Roraima.

(Reporting by Pedro Fonseca; Writing by Stephen Eisenhammer; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Reuters