‘Declaration of war’: 5 killed in Ecuador blast blamed on gangs

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President Guillermo Lasso declares a state of emergency in Guayaquil, where eight houses and two cars were destroyed.

Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso has declared a state of emergency in the country’s second-largest city of Guayaquil after an explosion blamed on “organised-crime mercenaries” killed at least five people and injured 17 others.

The state of emergency will be in force in the southwestern coastal city from Sunday, and will last for 30 days, said Security Secretary Diego Ordonez at a news conference.

Lasso warned on Twitter that his year-old government would “not allow organised crime to try to control the country”.

Ecuador’s prosecutor’s office said on its Twitter handle that its agents were gathering evidence to establish the cause and motive for the attack that destroyed eight houses and two cars.

Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo said the five dead had been identified and none had a criminal record.

He also said 17 people were wounded in the blast, which he blamed on “organised-crime mercenaries”, long involved in illicit drug traffic.

“It is a declaration of war against the state,” Carrillo added on Twitter.

Located between Colombia and Peru, the world’s two largest cocaine producers, Ecuador is facing a drug-fuelled crime wave that has produced scenes of horror, including decapitated bodies hanging from bridges.

Tensions between rival drug gangs have reached into Ecuador’s prisons, where clashes and massacres have caused at least 400 deaths since February 2021.

“Either we confront it [organised crime] together, or society will pay an even higher price,” Carrillo said.

Ecuador in 2020 accounted for 6.5 percent of all the cocaine seized in the world, according to the latest United Nations figures.

And last year, the nation of 18 million saw its murder rate – 14 homicides per 100,000 people – soar to nearly twice the 2020 rate.

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