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Mexico’s president mourns local candidate killed shortly after starting her campaign

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MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s president said Tuesday he was saddened by the killing of a mayoral candidate just hours after she requested protection and started campaigning. A city council candidate also went missing in the same attack on Monday, but later turned up, authorities said.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the killing of his own party’s candidate “hurts a lot,” but he did not announce any increase in security for politicians.

Candidate Bertha Gaytán was gunned down on a street in a town just outside the city of Celaya, in the north-central state of Guanajuato. She had just launched her campaign for Celaya mayor on Monday and acknowledged she had asked for protection.

Federal Security Secretary Rosa Icela Rodríguez said Tuesday morning that Celaya city council candidate Adrián Guerrero died of wounds suffered in the same attack, but later her office said he was missing.

Still later, authorities said he showed up prosecutors offices in a nearby city and requested protection. He had apparently fled following the shooting, which also left three people wounded.

“These events are very regrettable, because these are people who are fighting to defend democracy, they’re out on the street, face to face,” López Obrador said at his daily news briefing.

The killing was the latest in the increasingly bloody runup to Mexico’s June 2 elections. At least 15 candidates have been killed since the start of 2024 — and expressions of regret have become routine.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the slaying but Mexico’s drug cartels have often focused assassination attempts on mayors and mayoral candidates, in a bid to control local police or extort money from municipal governments.

López Obrador acknowledged that drug cartels often seek to determine who will serve as mayor — either by running their own candidate or eliminating potential rivals.

“They make an agreement and say, ‘this person is going to be mayor; we don’t want anyone else to register to run,’ and anybody who does, well, they know” what to expect, the president said.

The recent slayings have prompted the government to provide bodyguards or bulletproof cars for some, but candidates for municipal positions — while the most endangered — are the last in line for security.

On Monday, as Gaytán was walking down a street shouting the name of her and López Obrador’s political party, “Morena!,” gunshots rang out and she crumpled to the pavement, according to a video posted on social media. The footage then shows people running and falling down.

Guerrero was part of a small group that was walking with Gaytán. It wasn’t immediately clear if anyone else was wounded.

“The people are with us, they watch out for us, but of course we are going to have security provisions,” Gaytán had said shortly before she was killed, noting a request had been made through her Morena party. “Let’s see if we get some kind of answer today.”

The Morena party leadership issued a statement, calling the killing “cowardly,” and calling for an investigation.

Rodríguez, the federal security secretary, said Tuesday the government has taken on the commitment to respond to protection requests within 72 hours. She said over 100 candidates nationwide have asked for protection.

Guanajuato has for some time had the highest number of homicides of any state in Mexico, and Celaya is arguably the most dangerous place, per capita, to be a police officer in North America. At least 34 police officers have been killed in this city of 500,000 people in the last three years.

In Guanajuato state, with a population of just over 6 million, more police were shot to death in 2023 — about 60 — than in all of the United States.

The state has been wracked for years by violent turf battles between the Jalisco drug cartel and the homegrown Santa Rosa de Lima gang.

Violence against politicians is widespread in Mexico. Over the weekend, the mayor of Churumuco, a town in the neighboring state of Michoacán, was shot to death at a taco restaurant in the state capital, Morelia.

In late February in another town in Michoacán, two mayoral hopefuls were shot to death within hours of each other.

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Follow AP’s coverage of Latin America and the Caribbean at https://apnews.com/hub/latin-america

By MARK STEVENSON
Associated Press

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