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9 more people killed in attacks on political candidates as violence escalates days before elections in Mexico

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Two attacks against mayoral candidates in Mexico's June elections have left nine people dead in the southern state of Chiapas, the prosecutor's office in the organized crime-plagued region said Sunday.

The two candidates survived, though both were wounded, in the onslaughts Saturday night and early Sunday in the municipalities of Villa Corzo and Mapastepec, it said in a statement.

The attack in Mapastepec  targeted the car driving Nicolás Noriega, who is running to lead the municipal government. Noriega confirmed the attack to The Associated Press and said he was wounded and at least five people from his campaign were fatally shot.

Running under the country's ruling party, Morena didn't add more details and was noticeably shaken after the attack. Photos shared by local media showed a red truck dotted by bullet holes, and bloodied bodies lying in the trunk and on the ground.

"I deeply mourn the deaths of my friends, whose lives were taken in a cowardly manner. Evil is never going to reign in our hearts, because there are more of us who love life, who think of doing good," Noriega posted on Facebook Sunday. "I'm asking all of society to unite to honor life."

The attacks marked an escalation of violence in Chiapas against politicians intending to seek office in the June 2 vote, when Mexicans will also elect a new president.

Last week, six people, including a minor and mayoral candidate Lucero Lopez, were killed in an ambush after a campaign rally in the municipality of La Concordia, neighboring Villa Corzo.

More than two dozen politicians have been killed since September last year, according to the NGO Data Civica -- including one mayoral hopeful who was shot dead last month just as she began campaigning.

The toll increases to more than 50 people if relatives and other victims of those attacks are counted.

The prosecutor's office said the attack in Villa Corzo targeted a motorcade transporting Mayor Robertony Orozco, who is seeking reelection for the Morena party of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Three people died in the attack, and another later in hospital.

Orozco was shot in both legs, the statement said.

Mexico's president denies "Chiapas is on fire"

Spiraling criminal violence has seen more than 450,000 people murdered in Mexico since the government of then-president Felipe Calderon launched a controversial military offensive against drug cartels in 2006.

The homicide rate has almost tripled to 23 cases per 100,000 inhabitants since then.

Many Mexicans see insecurity as the most urgent challenge for the next government, according to surveys.

Electoral campaigns in Chiapas are often violent, but the situation has deteriorated because of a war being waged between the Jalisco New Generation and Sinaloa cartels in a region known as La Frailesca, which includes Villa Corzo and La Concordia.

The cartels are fighting over drug trafficking routes and control of other criminal enterprises such as extortion.

Mapastepec is a key strategic area because of its proximity to the Pacific coast.

Last week, 11 people were killed in mass shootings in a village in the township of Chicomuselo, Chiapas.

That is also the same area where in April the Morena presidential candidate, Claudia Sheinbaum, was intercepted by masked men during a tour of the Guatemalan border.

Candidates in Mexico Face Threats
The security convoy of candidate Willy Ochoa, formed by patrols of the National Guard, State Police and private security, leaving the municipality of Las Rosas, Chiapas, Mexico. May 6, 2024.  Victoria Razo for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Because of its strategic location, Chiapas is one of the three Mexican states with the highest levels of electoral violence, with 55 victims so far, according to the Mexican consulting firm Integralia. It trails only Guerrero and Michoacán, two states at the heart of the Mexican cartel warfare.

The surge in violence in Chiapas proved embarrassing for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador as he visited the border state Friday for a meeting with Guatemalan President Bernardo Arévalo. López Obrador.

Obrador has refused to confront the drug cartels and has largely minimized the problem of violence.

"There are those who maintain that Chiapas is on fire, no, as I've explained, the problem is in this region and we are going to solve it," Obrador said during a news briefing in Tapachula, Chiapas on Friday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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