Ecuador presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio assassinated

IANS Photo

IANS Photo

Quito, August 10 (IANS): Ecuadorian presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio has been killed, the country's president Guillermo Lasso has said, vowing the "crime will not go unpunished".

Local media had earlier reported Villavicencio, a former lawmaker who had been polling at 7.5 per cent and a leading anti-corruption campaigner, had been shot at a campaign event in Quito, The Guardian reported. 

Videos on social media appear to show the candidate walking out of the event surrounded by guards. The video then shows Villavicencio entering a white truck followed by gunfire.

"For his memory and his fight, I assure you that this crime will not remain unpunished," Lasso said on Twitter.

Villavicencio, from the Andean province of Chimborazo, was the candidate for the Build Ecuador Movement. He was a former union member at state oil company Petroecuador and later a journalist who denounced alleged millions in oil contract losses. He was one of eight presidential candidates for the late August election.

Villavicencio was one of the most critical voices against corruption, especially during the government of former president Rafael Correa from 2007 to 2017, 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, The Guardian reported.

As a legislator, Villavicencio was criticised by opposition politicians for obstructing an impeachment process this year against Lasso, which led the latter to call the early elections.

Lasso added that he was "outraged and shocked by the assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio. My solidarity and condolences to his wife and daughters".

He said his security cabinet would meet shortly.

The killing comes amid a startling wave of violence in the South American nation, with drug trafficking and killings on the rise.

"Organized crime has gone too far, but they will feel the full weight of the law," Lasso said, referring to the perpetrators of the crime.

"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 in response to the shooting.