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Police officers in Piura, Peru
Police officers in Piura, Peru

TRUJILLO — The mayor of the northwestern Peruvian city of Piura was shot dead last week by a masked hitman as he left a restaurant, making him the latest victim in a wave of violence directed at Peru's embattled local officials.

Lima-based daily El Comercio reports that the death of Piura Mayor Ronald Javier Navarro sparked a fresh outpouring of grief and fear among his colleagues nationwide, many of whom live at risk of extortion and kidnapping from organized crime. Nine mayors have been killed by criminal gangs within the last two years, according to the Peruvian Association of Municipalities (AMPE).

"We lament, reject, and condemn acts like these that the country mourns," said Óscar Benavides Majino, AMPE chief. "This assassination only confirms the danger that we live in, we feel afraid and helpless."

Peru's mayors are poorly paid, with those in remote areas receiving as little as 900 sols ($264) a month. The majority of those targeted for extortion are mayors far from the capital of Lima, in more isolated regions. Gangs dealing in illegal mining and drug trafficking, especially in the region surrounding the northwestern city of Trujillo, extort mayors for large sums of money and threaten to kill them or their family members.

Officials like Benavides are urging Peru's Congress to pass a bill, proposed by the mayors themselves, that would provide all district and provincial mayors with bodyguards. At least 70 mayors across the country have received death threats or have been targeted by gangs in 2016, up from 40 in 2015, according to El Comercio.

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