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Guatemalan mayor Carlos Castillo Medrano shot dead

The mayor of the eastern Guatemalan town of Jutiapa has been shot dead as he waited to have his hair cut at a barber’s.

Witnesses say Carlos Enrique Castillo Medrano, 39, was killed by two unidentified men who shot at him six times before escaping on a motorbike.

His death came as President Otto Perez Molina addressed the nation to mark his first year in office and hailed “a historic decline in violence”.

Murders were down by some 10%, he said.

“We have had 526 fewer homicides in 2012 than in the previous year,” said Mr Perez Molina in his state-of-the-nation address.

According to government figures, there were 5,174 violent deaths in Guatemala in 2012.

The president also highlighted a reduction in other crimes.

“Kidnappings are down by 33% and we have managed to dismantle many criminal organisations,” he said.

Brother in jail

In recent years, Guatemala has had one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world, according to the United Nations.

Figures from 2010 indicated a rate of 40 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.

Guatemala has struggled to deal with the violence generated by the drug gangs.

Much of the cocaine and other drugs produced in South America is smuggled through Central America to reach the United States.

Powerful gangs, with ramifications across the region and the United States, are behind much of the crime and are known to co-operate with the big Mexican drug cartels, such as the Zetas.

Mr Castillo Medrano is one of many mayors and local government officials who have been killed, kidnapped or injured in the last few years.

He was an experienced politician, who had served as mayor of a nearby town for three terms before being elected to the same post in Jutiapa in 2011.

The motive for his killing is unclear.

His brother, former congressman Manuel de Jesus Castillo Medrano, is serving a jail sentence for the murder of three politicians from neighbouring El Salvador.