The leading conservative candidate for president in Ecuador was fatally shot by unidentified gunman at a political rally in the country’s capital of Quito, just weeks before the presidential election, according to local reports.
Fernando Villavicencio, 59, was the popular candidate for the conservative Build Ecuador Movement. He was one of the most critical voices against the far-left corruption that has crippled the country, especially during the government of former President Rafael Correa from 2007 to 2017. He filed many judicial complaints against high ranking members of the Correa government.
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Early accounts show that several others were injured from shrapnel, though authorities did not confirm how many.
Videos on social media show Villavicencio, who was outspoken about links between organized crime and politics, surrounded by supporters and being escorted by security guards to a waiting vehicle when gunshots ring out as people start to scream and take cover.
According to the attorney general’s office, a suspect in the killing died from injuries sustained during the shootout that ensued, with six arrests made in connection with the attack, though no names have been made public yet.
Speaking at the scene of the assassination, Villavicencio’s uncle, Galo Valencia, blamed the government for not giving his nephew enough security and described how he thought the gunshots were fireworks launched by supporters until “we saw that there were wounded falling, blood, injured people”.
“What we witnessed was like a horror film. The death of my relative. I have no words for what’s happening in the country. They just killed democracy,” he said.
“What insecurity we live in … if a man who fought more than 20 years, the most likely to win the elections, is silenced. Is this the way to win elections?”
An eye-witness to the attack who did not wish to be identified said he initially thought the gunshots were fireworks. “We never imagined the tragedy that we are now living in the country. This is terrorism.
“If this can happen to a candidate who supposedly had security and contacts then anyone can be killed. It leaves a clear message that here life is worth nothing.”
Villavicencio’s fellow candidates expressed remorse. In a message on Twitter , Otto Sonnenholzner, said: “Our deepest condolences and deep solidarity with the loved ones of Fernando Villavicencio. May God keep him in his glory. Our country has gotten out of hand.”
“Today more than ever, the need to act with a strong hand against crime is reiterated. May God have him in his glory,” fellow presidential hopeful Jan Topic said.
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