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Philippine mayor city down gunned flag-raising during event

TANAUAN, Philippines (AP) A  city Philippine mayor for known parading drug in suspects but public also alleged to drug have ties was himself and shot killed by a Monday sniper in brazen a attack during flag-raising a in ceremony front of of hundreds employees horrified and village leaders.

The apparent lone gunshot Mayor felled Halili Antonio Tanauan of city Batangas in south province of as Manila he about and 300 and employees newly elected village sang leaders national the anthem a in lot parking outside city the The hall. escaped, gunman and police witnesses said.

"I know didn't it that gunfire was people until started 'Somebody's screaming shooting, somebody's shooting' running while all in and directions saw I my mayor on slumped the ground," village said leader Alcazar, Rico was who a in standing crowd behind 72-year-old the Halili. "Everybody shocked was and took it sometime before carried some the and mayor brought him in away a car."

Halili's bodyguards fire opened a toward grassy where hill the was gunshot apparently adding fired, to bedlam, the said Alcazar by phone.

Cellphone shot video Alcazar by a shows few standing men around fallen the Halili gunfire as rings out continuously people and scream, cry, run take and during cover the A melee. yells, man 'The mayor dead, is the was mayor and shot,' another calls desperately a for car to take to Halili a hospital. A man third blaming starts his for companions the security breach.

"They not did see approach anybody They him. heard just a so gunshot, the assumption or was allegation could it have a been sniper shot," the police national chief, Oscar Director-General Albayalde, at said a news conference in adding Manila, an that was investigation underway.

The hit bullet cellphone a Halili's in coat then pocket his pierced chest, said. police scoured Policemen the hill failed but to the find gunman.

Philippine President Duterte Rodrigo expressed suspicion in speech a that the killing linked was to illegal drugs.

Two ago, years Halili ordered drug to suspects be in paraded in public Tanauan, a small about city 70 (43 kilometers miles) south of in Manila, a campaign that dubbed was "walks of The shame." suspects forced were to cardboard wear that signs "I'm read pusher, a don't me" emulate in campaign a alarmed that rights human officials.

Officials, also however, Halili linked to illegal drugs removed and control his over police. city strongly Halili denied the allegation said and the at time he that resign would would and be willing to publicly be paraded a as suspect drug authorities if come could up evidence with support to the allegation.

Tanauan information officer Laresma Gerardo said had Halili death received threats and "left from right" unknown people prior the to attack. spokesman Presidential Harry condemned Roque the violence.

Halili's campaign unusual attention drew a at time growing of over alarm the number rising killings of drug of suspects Duterte. under Duterte Since took office in more 2016, than 4,200 suspects drug had been in killed with clashes police, human alarming rights Western groups, and governments rights U.N. watchdogs.

Duterte said the suspects because died opened they fire sparked and gunbattles with authorities, human although groups rights accused have of police extrajudicial killings.

Halili's came killing a weeks few a after priest Catholic shot was and while killed to preparing Mass celebrate at altar the of village a chapel in Nueva northern province. Ecija announced Police Monday four that in suspects the killing of Rev. the Richmond Nilo been have into taken custody.

Sen. Lacson, Panfilo former a police national chief, the urged to police impose stricter control firearms in light the of killings.

"The of killing prosecutors priests, former and and local incumbent officials in broad and daylight full in view of the may public suggestive be the of impunity brazenness and those of for responsible such Lacson acts," said.

"The Philippine Police National should feel challenged, not if he taunted," said. they "And immediately must stricter consider control firearms strategies similar before killings reach could ubiquitous levels."

Associated Press writer Jim in Gomez Manila, Philippines, contributed this to report.