Another mayor killed in Mexico, the third in two weeks

Puebla (Mexico) (AFP) - A mayor was shot dead in Mexico's central Puebla state, the third mayor to be killed within two weeks, authorities said Tuesday, prompting calls for better security for municipal officials.

Jose Santamaria Zavala, the mayor of Huehuetlan El Grande, was found dead Monday night next to his bullet-riddled sport-utility vehicle, according to a police report obtained by AFP.

The bullets came from a 9mm-caliber handgun, the Puebla state prosecutor's office said in a statement.

The initial investigation indicates Santamaria Zavala, 44, was the victim of a robbery attempt, the statement said, adding that authorities were not ruling out other motives.

"There were rocks on the road to block the path of the SUV," it said, citing evidence and the testimony of an unidentified person who was with the mayor.

"The probable male culprits who intercepted the vehicle demanded money" but the witness said there was nothing to steal, the statement said.

The police report said the mayor's secretary had been traveling with him but was not there when authorities arrived. It was not clear if the secretary was the witness interviewed by police.

At least 41 mayors have been murdered in the country since 2006, according to the National Association of Mayors of Mexico. Seven mayors-elect and 32 former mayors have also been killed in the past 10 years.

Two other mayors were killed last month.

Ambrosio Soto, the mayor of Pungabarato in the drug violence-plagued southern state of Guerrero, was ambushed by gunmen on the night of July 23-24.

Soto's leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) said the mayor had "desperately" pleaded for state and federal government support after receiving threats from a gang.

That same weekend, Domingo Lopez Gonzalez, the mayor of San Juan Chamula in southern Chiapas state, was shot dead during a protest.

In another murder that shocked the country in January, the mayor of Temixco in the central state of Morelos was shot dead in front of her family less than 24 hours after she took office.

Another mayor was gunned down in the central State of Mexico in April.

The National Association of Mayors issued a statement lamenting Santamaria Zavala's death and requested an "urgent" meeting with Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong to "jointly set the basis for a security protocol for municipal authorities."

- 'Easy prey' -

Jose Antonio Crespo, a political analyst at the Economic Research and Teaching Center think tank, said the latest murder shows that municipal officials are easy targets.

"The vulnerability is very high. The municipalities are relatively easy prey for organized crime because their police are threatened or bought," Crespo told AFP.

"The mayors are also intimidated or they can collude with narcos to survive," he said.

Mayors and local police have also been linked to crimes themselves.

On Monday, the mayor of Alvaro Obregon, in the western state of Michoacan, was arrested along with four police officers in connection with the murder of 10 people whose burnt bodies were found over the weekend.

In a case that drew international condemnation, prosecutors say local police abducted 43 students in the southern state of Guerrero in 2014 and handed them over to a drug cartel that killed them and incinerated their bodies.

The mayor of the city of Iguala was accused of having links to the Guerreros Unidos cartel and remains in jail.