© Reuters. Ecuadorean presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio speaks during a campaign rally in Quito, Ecuador August 9, 2023. REUTERS/Karen Toro
By Alexandra Valencia
QUITO (Reuters) -A suspect in the killing of Ecuador presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio has died from injuries sustained during a shootout, the attorney general’s office said on Wednesday on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
Villavicencio was killed on Wednesday evening during a campaign event in northern Quito, with local media reporting the former lawmaker had been shot.
“A suspect, who was injured during the shootout with security personnel, was apprehended and moved, badly injured, to the (attorney general’s) unit in Quito. An ambulance from the fire department confirmed his death, the police are proceeding with collection of the cadaver,” the attorney general’s office said.
Villavicencio’s party Movimiento Construye said on X that armed men attacked its Quito offices.
Ecuador’s police and Interior Ministry did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the details of the killing.
“For his memory and his fight, I assure you that this crime will not remain unpunished,” President Guillermo Lasso said on X. “Organized crime have gone very far, but all the weight of the law will fall on them.”
Lasso said he would host top security officials at an urgent meeting.
Videos on social media purportedly from the campaign event showed people taking cover and screaming as gunfire sounded.
According to opinion polls, Villavicencio’s support was at 7.5%, ranking him fifth out of eight presidential candidates for the August 20 vote.
Lasso’s government has blamed rising violence on the streets and in prisons on criminal infighting to control trafficking routes used by Mexican cartels, the Albanian mafia and others to move drugs.
Security concerns, along with employment and migration, are major voter concerns in the presidential contest.
Villavicencio, from the Andean province of Chimborazo, was a former union member at state oil company Petroecuador and later a journalist who denounced alleged millions in oil contract losses.
He had on Tuesday made a report to the attorney general’s office about an oil business, but no further details of his report were made public.
Villavicencio was an outspoken critic of former President Rafael Correa and was sentenced to 18 months in prison for defamation over statements made against the former president.
He fled to Indigenous territory within Ecuador and later was given asylum in Peru.
As a legislator, Villavicencio was criticized by opposition politicians for obstructing an impeachment process this year against Lasso, which lead the latter to call the early elections.
Villavicencio had pledged to combat corruption and reduce tax evasion.
Other candidates in the race reacted with horror to the killing.
“This makes us all mourn, my solidarity to all his family and the people who follow his ideals. This vile act will not go unpunished!,” presidential candidate Luisa Gonzalez, who is running for Correa’s party, said in a post on platform X.
Indigenous candidate Yaku Perez said he had decided to suspend his presidential campaign and demanded the violence stop, in a video posted after the incident.
“To the government; we don’t want words… Act. We are dying,” candidate Otto Sonnenholzner told a press conference.
“Today more than ever, the need to act with a strong hand against crime is reiterated. May God have him in his glory,” presidential hopeful Jan Topic said in his own post on X, before also suspending his campaign.