Six suspects in murder of Ecuador presidential candidate killed in prison, authorities say

Times postOct 16, 20233
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Six men suspected of involvement in the murder in August of Ecuador's anti-corruption presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio were killed in prison on Friday, the prisons agency said, barely a week before a crucial run-off election. The killings took place in a penitentiary in Guayaquil, the South American country's largest city, the attorney general's office announced earlier on Friday. Ecuador's government swiftly condemned the killings.

Villavicencio, a prominent journalist, was gunned down less than two weeks before a first round general election as he left a campaign event in the capital, Quito. Police arrested the six Colombians on the day of Villavicencio's assassination. A seventh suspect, also Colombian, was shot and killed by police, while other suspects were later arrested. The second round run-off vote is scheduled for Oct. 15, the culmination of an election cycle marred by numerous incidents of violence.

Business heir Daniel Noboa, who holds a narrow lead in some polls ahead of the run-off, said in a social media post that the government must provide details of what occurred at the prison and that peace must be restored in the country. His main rival for the presidency is Luisa Gonzalez, a protege of leftist former President Rafael Correa. She has said that surging crime is unprecedented and that voters should not allow "terror" to stop them from voting for change.

The public prosecutor's office said that its agents, along with police and the military, were "executing security protocols... in light of the disturbance that occurred Friday afternoon." It added in a statement on X that "in the coming hours, specialized military personnel will carry out the first raids and reconnaissance of Cellblock 7, where the incidents originated, to take control of the situation." Guayas 1 is one of five facilities that make up a large prison complex in Guayaquil, a key port city that has become one of the country's increasingly bloody centers of a turf war between rival drug-trafficking gangs. In late July, a riot in the Guayas 1 prison left more than 30 people dead.

The Ecuadorian government has said it is determined to identify those behind the murder of Villavicencio, a prominent journalist-turned-politician who was gunned down on August 9 as he was leaving a campaign rally in northern Quito ahead of first-round voting

Villavicencio told local media before his killing that an “emissary” of a gang leader in Ecuador had contacted him and warned him to stop mentioning the Los Choneros gang during his campaigning. Officials have blamed Villavicencio’s murder on organised crime. Guayaquil is a key port city that has become one of Ecuador’s increasingly bloody centres of a turf war between rival drug-trafficking gangs. Once a peaceful country nestled between the world’s largest cocaine producers, Colombia and Peru, Ecuador has become a new front line in a conflict between powerful gangs linked to Colombian and Mexican cartels.

Ecuador’s President pledges to get to bottom of killings in prison of six Colombian suspects in high-profile murder.