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Mexican cartels assassinate governor candidate

Mexico's main opposition party scrambled to name a new candidate for governor in the upcoming election in a northern border state after suspected drug hitmen killed the front-runner.

Electoral officials said they would go ahead with Sunday's vote in Tamaulipas state despite the murder of Rodolfo Torre, candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. Party leaders and PRI state governors from across Mexico were to meet yesterday to choose a nominee. Politicians cancelled campaign rallies.

In the worst case of political intimidation by drug cartels since President Felipe Calderon launched his war on traffickers in late 2006, gunmen ambushed the popular Mr Torre on his way to a campaign event in Tamaulipas, across the border from Texas, on Monday morning.

It was Mexico's highest-level political murder in 16 years and the latest blow to the country's image as a stable emerging market. The death toll from Mexico's drug war has exceeded 25,500 in three-and-a-half years.

Mr Torre's green and red campaign posters still covered towns across Tamaulipas yesterday but streets were deserted as residents stayed at home. Mr Calderon called for unity and pledged to defend Mexico's democracy against drug gangs who have launched a campaign of intimidation against politicians running in local elections.