Organizer for Ecuador ex-President Correa's party killed -party leaders

QUITO (Reuters) - A local organizer in Ecuador's Esmeraldas province for the political movement founded by ex-President Rafael Correa, was assassinated on Monday, party leaders said, less than a week after a presidential candidate was murdered.

Ecuadoreans go to the polls on Sunday to vote in early presidential elections after out-going President Guillermo Lasso dissolved the legislature in May under a constitutional quirk to avoid impeachment.

However, voting will take place amid high levels of criminality in the South American country, with soaring incidents of violence and murder in cities and in prisons, which Lasso has repeatedly blamed on drug trafficking gangs.

Pedro Briones, a director for Citizen Revolution in the San Mateo parish in Esmeraldas was killed, leaders including Correa and Luisa Gonzalez, the party's presidential candidate, said in messages on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

"Ecuador is living its bloodiest moment. We owe this to the total abandonment of an inept government and a state taken over by mafias," Gonzalez said.

"My hug of solidarity to the family of comrade Pedro Briones, who fell at the hands of violence," she added.

Neither the police nor the interior ministry were able to immediately confirm the killing.

Last week presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was gunned down in Quito after leaving a campaign event.

The murder sent shockwaves throughout Ecuador and has prompted leading candidates to promise tough approaches to crime during their campaigns.

Ecuador's murder rate has soared since the coronavirus pandemic, and the country's prisons are also frequently the scene of deadly riots.

The situation has prompted Lasso to declare a string of states of emergency, with the president also legalizing civilian use of firearms.

Six Colombian nationals have been charged with Villavicencio's murder and remain in custody. One other suspect died after an exchange of gunfire shortly after the murder.

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Chris Reese)

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