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Last Updated: Monday, 15 December, 2003, 21:34 GMT
Guatemala 'political' priest dead
Father Jose Marķa Ruiz Furlan lies dead
Father Ruiz was known as champion of the poor
Gunmen in Guatemala have shot dead a Roman Catholic 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.

Father 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.

Justice demand

Father 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 Father Ruiz's supporters gathered near his house after the killing, demanding justice.

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

Test case

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.

Bishop Juan Gerardi
Bishop Gerardi's case shocked the country
Last year, a court of appeals overturned the convictions of four men linked to the murder of Bishop Gerardi and ordered a new trial.

Three army officers and a priest were sentenced to between 20 and 30 years in prison for the killing of the bishop - the head of the Church's human rights office - in 2001.

That trial had been seen as a test of Guatemala's justice system by human rights activists, who believed the murder was carried out on the highest orders.

Bishop Gerardi, head of the church's human rights office, was bludgeoned to death in April 1998, days after presenting a report blaming the military for almost all the atrocities committed during Guatemala's 36-year civil war.

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04 Oct 02  |  Americas
Bishop's murder trial begins
23 Mar 01  |  Americas
Guatemala reveals military files
12 May 00  |  Americas
Country profile: Guatemala
07 Nov 03  |  Country profiles

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