Gunmen kill six in Ecuador tourist town: prosecutors

MONTANITA (AFP): Gunmen in Ecuador opened fire in a restaurant in a beach town popular with tourists, killing at least six people and wounding six more, prosecutors said Sunday.

The attack happened Saturday night in a busy nightlife area of the town of Montanita on the Pacific coast, the prosecutors’ office said on Twitter.

It gave no information on the age or identity of the people who were shot.

Located between Colombia and Peru, the world’s top producers of cocaine, Ecuador is weathering the biggest surge in crime in its recent history.

Crime linked to drug trafficking caused the murder rate to almost double from 2021 to 2022.

A woman who was near the restaurant at the time of the latest shooting described hearing gunshots.

“We heard the noise — boom, boom, boom, and people said, ‘run, run, it’s a shootout,'” the woman told AFP. She declined to give her name, saying she feared reprisal.

It was the second mass shooting in days on Ecuador’s Pacific coast.

On Thursday gunmen burst into a wake at a funeral home in the nearby town of Manta and started shooting, killing four people and leaving eight wounded.

Conservative President Guillermo Lasso has tried to counter the crime wave by declaring a state of emergency in the hardest-hit provinces, such as Santa Elena, which includes Montanita. The measure allows for deploying soldiers in the streets and declaring curfews.

The government blames the violence on fights between drug gangs battling for power and control of routes to ship cocaine and other drugs from the Pacific coast to Europe and the United States.

These battles have also claimed lives in prisons, as rival gangs fight each other behind bars. More than 420 inmates have died in rioting since 2021.