Army troops surrounded Guatemala's largest prison where inmates held hundreds of Easter visitors hostage following a violent escape attempt that left at least seven people dead and many wounded, police said.

An estimated 600 people, including women and children who had been visiting relatives at the Pavon prison Easter Sunday, still were being held hostage, police and local radio reports said. Among them, police said, were six firefighters, including their commander, Alejandro Giammatei. Negotiations were under way to end the uprising, but no progress has been reported.Army troops surrounded the prison, 10 miles east of the capital, to prevent the escape of the approximately 1,500 inmates. Three prison guards and four prisoners were killed, police said.

Police said the riot started Sunday afternoon when some 150 inmates broke into the prison's armory and seized a large number of rifles. As they approached the gates in an attempt to escape, they were met by prison guards who opened fire with machine guns, police said. The prisoners then took as hostages the hundreds of people who were visiting relatives and friends.

President Vinicio Cerezo ordered government troops to avoid further bloodshed and the prisoners allowed firefighters to enter the prison, Guatemala's largest, late Sunday to remove the dead and some of the wounded. Radio reports said there were many wounded, but officials did not provide any figures.

The inmates demanded to speak with Gonzalo Menendez de la Riva, the government's chief official for human rights, and claimed the mutiny was to protest maltreatment and lack of food and other basic services. They said they wanted the warden dismissed and demanded that army troops be withdrawn.

Police said Menendez de la Riva was out of town and that authorities requested the release of the hostages before negotiating the prisoners' demands.

Eduardo Antonio Gonzalez, one of the visitors, managed to flee with his wife by hiding in the prison's chapel. "I was sitting with my wife when the shooting started," Gonzalez said. "A bullet hit my wife's foot, but we were able to run toward the chapel and hid behind the altar. Afterward we were rescued by the firemen."