Ecuador trial over presidential candidate's murder gets underway

QUITO (Reuters) - A court in Ecuador on Tuesday started a trial against five people accused of murdering presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio last year, where the accused could serve up to 26 years in jail if found guilty.

Journalist and former legislator Villavicencio was shot while leaving a rally in August 2023, becoming the most prominent victim of Ecuador's spiraling violence.

Villavicencio, whose journalism exposed corruption and connections between organized crime and politicians, had long faced threats.

Prosecutors say two of the accused are leaders of factions in the Los Lobos criminal gang, although the defense says there is not sufficient evidence to support the accusation.

Prosecutors are undertaking a separate investigation into who requested the murder.

One of the hitmen died at the scene of Villavicencio's murder and seven other suspects - mostly Colombian citizens - were murdered in October while being held in prisons on pre-trial detention.

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Alistair Bell)