Escalating violence engulfs Mexican election race

The body of Gisela Gaytan, candidate for mayor of the Mexican city of Celaya, lies on a street after she was gunned down while campaigning (Oscar Ortega)
The body of Gisela Gaytan, candidate for mayor of the Mexican city of Celaya, lies on a street after she was gunned down while campaigning (Oscar Ortega)

An aspiring mayor of one of Mexico's most dangerous cities was gunned down in the street as violence escalates weeks before elections, authorities said Tuesday.

The attack underscored the perils of running for office in the Latin American country, particularly for local-level candidates who frequently fall victim to bloodshed connected to corruption and the multibillion-dollar drugs trade.

Gisela Gaytan, who was campaigning to be mayor of the central city of Celaya, was shot dead on Monday during a visit to meet supporters, the state prosecutor's office said.

The 38-year-old ruling party candidate had said earlier at a press conference that she had asked for protection for her team.

"This is something that has us angry, shocked, in mourning. We are going to suspend campaign activities," said Alma Alcaraz, another candidate with the governing Morena party.

Authorities said that three other people were injured in the shooting in Guanajuato -- considered Mexico's most violent state due to turf wars between drug cartels.

There was confusion over the fate of a candidate for a local legislature who was initially reported by the government to have died from injuries sustained in the same attack.

The security ministry said in an update that Adrian Guerrero's whereabouts were unknown and investigators were trying to locate him.

Across the country, around 30 people seeking election have been murdered since last June, according to research firm Laboratorio Electoral.

The death toll increases to more than 50 people if relatives and other victims of those attacks are counted, the firm says.

- 'Fighting for democracy' -

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador described it as a "sad day" and said state authorities were not believed to have provided security for Gaytan.

"These events are very regrettable. There are people who are fighting for democracy," he said at his morning news conference.

The country will hold presidential, legislative and local elections on June 2.

Lopez Obrador is barred from seeking reelection because of Mexico's one-term limit.

Guanajuato state governor Diego Sinhue vowed that the latest attack would "not go unpunished."

The wave of violence linked to organized crime in Mexico is impacting politicians from a range of parties.

On Saturday, the mayor of Michoacan's Churumuco municipality, Guillermo Torres, was shot dead at a restaurant.

Also in March, mayoral candidates from the states of Puebla (center), Jalisco (west) and Guerrero (south) were killed.

Mexico has recorded nearly 450,000 murders since launching a controversial anti-drug military operation in 2006, most of them blamed on fighting between criminals, according to official figures.