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Ecuador under state of emergency after presidential candidate killed

AFP – Ecuador declared a state of emergency yesterday and asked the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to help probe the assassination of a popular presidential candidate, whose death has highlighted the once-peaceful nation’s decline into a violent hotbed of drug trafficking and organised crime.

Police said six Colombians have been arrested in the murder of Fernando Villavicencio, a 59-year-old journalist and anti-corruption crusader who was gunned down as he left a campaign rally in the capital Quito on Thursday.

Another attacker, also Colombian, was shot dead by security agents, authorities said. Interior Minister Juan Zapata said the assailants belonged to “organised crime groups”, without specifying which ones.

Shocked citizens expressed their frustration with the burgeoning violence in the South American country, which has seen its murder rate soar as drug gangs wage bloody turf wars.

Housewife Ruth Flores, 65, told AFP people were “outraged” by the murder of a man she saw as “the hope for honesty in our country. A candidate who denounced the corruption of narcopolitics”. She described the situation in the country as “very worrying. You can’t walk peacefully… there is no security”.

A soldier pats down a driver at a road block in Guayaquil, Ecuador. PHOTO: AP

President Guillermo Lasso declared a two-month state of emergency, and said the FBI accepted the country’s request for help, with a delegation arriving soon.

Villavicencio complained of receiving threats from Los Choneros, one of the country’s most powerful drug gangs.

“They told me to wear a (bulletproof) vest. I don’t need it. Let the hitmen come! They may bend me but they will never break me,” the politician told a rally earlier this week in Chone, the gang’s birthplace.

Electoral officials also reported threats against them ahead of the snap election on August 20. A popular mayor and aspiring lawmaker have also been assassinated in recent weeks.

Villavicencio was targeted with a hail of gunfire, with the country’s main newspaper El Universo reporting he was assassinated “hitman-style and with three shots to the head”.

His family wept and held each other as his body was transported from a forensic lab to a funeral home for a private wake.