Guatemala presidential candidate's aide killed

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GUATEMALA CITY, Oct 8 (Reuters) A secretary to a Guatemalan presidential candidate was murdered by gunmen today just blocks from Congress in an attack that the candidate said was politically motivated.

In the latest episode of violence in a bloody election campaign, Aura Salazar, who worked in the congressional office of candidate Otto Perez Molina's Patriotic Party, was shot by unknown gunmen early in the morning in the crowded center of Guatemala City.

A presidential security guard traveling in Salazar's car was also killed.

''This is a political attack against someone who worked very closely with me,'' said Perez Molina at the crime scene, where the two bodies laid slumped in a parked car.

He is a right-wing former general in a tight race to win a run-off vote on November 4 against left-leaning businessman Alvaro Colom, who won the first round of voting in September.

Some 50 candidates and political supporters have been killed in the lead-up to the election, the bloodiest campaign since the end of Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war.

Hard-line Perez Molina is running on an anti-crime ticket in Guatemala, which with close to 6,000 mostly unresolved murders last year is among the world's most violent countries.

''Just this weekend, I declared organized criminals and drug traffickers were financing the opposition. Now we are rising in the polls those backers see their interests threatened,'' Perez Molina said.

In a poll published on Monday in the national Siglo XXI newspaper Perez Molina led by 7.6 points before the run-off vote. A CID-Gallup poll published at the weekend showed the two candidates neck and neck ahead of the vote.

Colom's National Unity for Hope party has been the hardest hit by election violence, with 18 party members killed since the campaign started last year. Colom blames the bulk of the killings on drug traffickers trying to muscle their way into the party ranks.

Guatemala is a major focal point for cocaine moving from Colombia up through Mexico to the United States.

REUTERS TB AS0056

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