Fernando Villavicencio, a presidential candidate for Ecuador, was shot and killed

Ecuador's presidential candidate, Fernando Villavicencio, has been shot dead at a campaign rally in Quito, Ecuador, on Wednesday. He is one of the few candidates to allege links between organized crime and government officials in the country. Ecuador has historically been a relatively safe and stable country in Latin America, but crime has shot up in recent years, fuelled by the growing presence of Colombian and Mexican drug cartels. Villavicencio had received threats from a gang called Los Choneros last month and had been given a security detail. A video appeared on social media after his murder, in which heavily armed men wearing balaclavas claimed responsibility for the murder. The men claim to belong to Los Lobos (The Wolves), who are rivals of Los Choneros. However, hours later, another video appeared online in which another group of men, this time not wearing masks, claimed they were Los Lobos and denied they had played a role in the assassination, claiming the other video was an attempt by their rivals to set them up for the murder.

Both gangs wield considerable power and the violence they have sowed has been one of the key concerns of Ecuadoreans ahead of presidential elections on 20 August. He was one of eight candidates in the first round of the election, although he was not the frontrunner and was polling around the middle of the pack. Ecuador is the smallest of the Andean nations in South America, sitting on the equator between Colombia and Peru.

The shooting of a presidential candidate at a public event in the capital is the most brazen attack so far and shocking testimony to the strength of the gangs. Witnesses say Mr. Villavicencio was attacked as he was leaving a campaign event at about 18:20 (00:20 GMT) local time. In the chaos, nine other people were injured, including a candidate for the country's assembly and two police officers. The suspect was also shot in an exchange of bullets with security and later died from his injuries, the country's attorney general said on social media. Six people have been detained by police in connection with the assassination after raids in Quito.

A state of emergency has been declared and current President Guillermo Lasso has vowed the "crime will not go unpunished." Luisa González, the frontrunner in the polls, shared her "solidarity" with Mr. Villavicencio's family, adding that this vile act will not go unpunished. Former vice-president and fellow candidate Otto Sonnenholzner sent his "deepest condolences and deep solidarity" .


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