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Guatemala 'political' priest dead

Gunmen in Guatemala have shot dead a priest who was twice a candidate for mayor of the capital.

Jose Maria Ruiz Furlan, 72, was shot several times as he left a church in a poor neighbourhood of Guatemala City.

Fr Ruiz, regarded as a staunch defender of the poor, had often been criticised by his superiors in the Church for his involvement in politics.

Guatemala has yet to recover from the murder in 1998 of renowned human rights campaigner, Bishop Juan Gerardi.

Fr Ruiz ran for mayor of Guatemala City in 1978 and 1982 - prompting Church officials to remove him from the order in 1995 - but admitting him back in 1999.

He was killed in his parish, La Limonada, as he was emerging from the Santa Cura de Arce church on Sunday evening.

Witnesses reported hearing several shots, said Guillermo Mendoza, spokesman for the public investigator's office. Mr Mendoza said one of the gunshots, fired from close range, had hit the priest in the head.

Thousands of Fr Ruiz's supporters gathered near his house after the killing, demanding justice.

"They have killed the people's hope," said one of his followers.

Arriving at the scene, Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada said he lamented and condemned "so absurd a crime which strikes again at the church".

"I hope it will not remain unpunished like so many other crimes," he said - a possible reference to the high-profile killing of Bishop Gerardi more than five years ago.

Guatemala 'political' priest dead (BBC 15/12/03)

Pope talks reconciliation in Guatemala (Zenit 2/8/02)

17 Dec 2003