Police arrest six Colombians suspected of assassination of presidential candidate in Ecuador

World News
2023-08-11 | 03:50
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Police arrest six Colombians suspected of assassination of presidential candidate in Ecuador
Police arrest six Colombians suspected of assassination of presidential candidate in Ecuador

Ecuador has declared a state of emergency after Fernando Villavicencio, a prominent presidential candidate, was assassinated by gunfire on Wednesday evening. Despite this tragic incident, the scheduled presidential elections on August 20th will proceed as planned.

Fernando Villavicencio, a centrist candidate who ranks second according to opinion polls among the presidential contenders, was shot dead at the conclusion of an electoral event in Quito on Wednesday.

Ecuador's President Guillermo Lasso stated via Twitter that "organized crime has gone too far," expressing his shock and condemnation. He added, "I assure you that this crime will not go unpunished."

On Thursday, the police announced that six individuals had been arrested on suspicion of their involvement in the crime, in addition to the attacker who was killed during the operation. All of them were identified as Colombians.

Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, extended his condolences to the Ecuadorian people and condemned the assassination, terming it an attack on democracy. He emphasized that the United States stands in solidarity with Ecuador.

Ecuador's National Electoral Council's official, Diana Atamaint, later confirmed that the date of the general elections in Ecuador will remain unchanged on August 20th.

President Lasso, in a YouTube broadcast, announced that "the armed forces are in a state of mobilization across the national territory to ensure the safety of citizens, maintain calm in the country, and facilitate free and democratic elections on August 20th."

The 59-year-old candidate was killed, a journalist, as he exited a sports hall in the northern part of the capital, moments after an electoral event. He was among eight candidates running for the presidency.

Fernando Villavicencio was known for his stance against corruption, particularly corruption during the presidency of Rafael Correa between 2007 and 2017. Correa was sentenced to eight years in prison in absentia and is currently residing in Belgium as a refugee.

According to the latest polls by Cedatos, Fernando Villavicencio was in second place with around 13% of the votes, trailing behind lawyer Luisa Gonzalez with approximately 26.6%.

Following the news of his assassination, Luisa Gonzalez, Indigenous leader Yaku Perez, and the third-placed candidate Otto Sonnenholzner all suspended their electoral campaigns.

The Attorney General's office reported that "nine people, including a parliamentary candidate and two policemen," were injured during the incident. One of the attackers was killed by security guards.

The police arrested six individuals during raids in a southern Quito neighborhood and an adjacent town, according to the Attorney General's office.

The White House, European Union, and France strongly condemned the assassination, considering it an attack on democracy. Investigations are ongoing, and the body of the deceased candidate will be autopsied to determine further details.

"A Very Serious Threat" -
Fernando Villavicencio had announced last week that he and his campaign team had received threats from a leader of a criminal gang involved in drug trafficking, who is currently incarcerated.

He had written on Twitter at the time, "Despite the new threats, we will continue to fight for the brave people of Ecuador," revealing that he had received a "very serious threat" from the gang leader, known as "Vito."

President Lasso called for a meeting of top security officials and public bodies, including the National Court of Justice, the country's highest judicial authority.

Ecuador has experienced a surge of violence linked to drug trafficking in recent years, leading to the assassination of a mayor and a parliamentary candidate amid the electoral campaign.

Diana Atamaint had mentioned on Wednesday that members of the National Electoral Council had received death threats.

In the months leading up to the local elections in February, two mayoral candidates were also assassinated.

In 2022, the country witnessed 25 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, twice the rate of 2021.

"Assassination Methodically Executed" -
Ecuador's leading local newspaper, El Universo, reported that Fernando Villavicencio was "assassinated in a manner consistent with hired killers, with three bullets to the head."

Doctor Carlos Vigueroa, a friend of the victim who was present at the crime scene, told journalists that he heard about 30 gunshots.

He explained, "They set up an ambush outside the hall. Some witnesses thought it was fireworks."

The police detonated an explosive device placed at the site of the assassination, according to Alan Luna, the head of investigations in the security forces.

As chairman of the tax committee in the parliament, a position he held until President Lasso dissolved it in May, Fernando Villavicencio consistently condemned corruption cases, similar to his actions during his career as a journalist.

Fernando Villavicencio had played a significant role in an investigative report that uncovered a widespread corruption network involving former president Rafael Correa. Correa was sentenced to eight years in prison in absentia.

Despite this tragic event, Ecuadorians are determined to uphold their democratic values and exercise their right to vote in the upcoming elections on August 20th. The investigation into Fernando Villavicencio's assassination is ongoing, and authorities are committed to bringing those responsible to justice.

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