Pope Francis, shown leading the weekly general audience in the Paolo VI hall of the Vatican on Saturday, urged an end to ongoing political violence in Ecuador. Photo by Giuseppe Lami/EPA-EFE
Aug. 12 (UPI) -- Pope Francis on Saturday condemned 'unjustifiable violence' in Ecuador after this week's assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio.
Villavicencio's slaying on Wednesday came shortly before the country's Aug. 20 presidential election.
Francis sent a telegram to Archbishop Alfredo Jose Espinoza Maeus of Quito expressing his condolences to Villavicencio's family "and to all the beloved people of Ecuador," the Vatican said.
Francis called on "citizens and political forces to unite in a common effort for peace."
Villavicencio was shot and killed at a rally in Quito. Video posted online shows him entering a white pickup truck as shots rang out.
A friend of Villavicencio, Carlos Figueroa, who witnessed the assassination, told local media the politician was shot three times in the head.
Equatorian President Guillermo Lasso said he was "outraged and shocked by the assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio."
"For his memory and for his fight, I assure you that this crime will not go unpunished," he said, blaming the attack on "organized crime."
Nine people were reportedly injured during the assassination, and one suspect was wounded in a shootout with police and died shortly after being taken into custody.
Authorities say six suspects who have been arrested in connection with the assassination are all Colombian nationals.
Police said Friday four of the suspects were present at the scene of the assassination, with two of them responsible for firing six shots into the car carrying Villavicencio, the Spanish newspaper El Pais reported.
Police are investigating the possible involvement of notorious Ecuadorian drug kingpin Fabricio Colón Pico, who remains at large and wanted for a series of crimes ranging from drug trafficking to weapons possession.
A number of killings have rocked Ecuador in recent months, with the assassination of Puerto Lopez mayoral candidate Omar Menendez in February and the killing of Manta Mayor Agustin Intriago last month.