Venezuela opposition figure's killing was gangland hit: president

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro delivers a speech in front of the Miraflores presidential palace, in Caracas on November 21, 2015 (AFP Photo/Federico Parra)

Caracas (AFP) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Thursday the shooting death of an opposition leader appeared to be a gangland score-settling, dismissing claims it was politically motivated ahead of key elections.

Authorities were investigating the killing of Luis Manuel Diaz and "the interior ministry has evidence that suggests it was a contract killing to settle a score between rival gangs," Maduro said in a speech to supporters.

An attacker shot Diaz dead on Wednesday evening in the central Guarico region at a campaign rally for the December 6 legislative elections, party officials said.

The event was also attended by Lilian Tintori, the wife of a jailed opposition leader and a high-profile critic of Maduro.

"Last night there was a regrettable incident in Guarico. I send my condolences to the family of the deceased," Maduro said.

Polls have indicated Maduro's government could lose its majority in the National Assembly in next month's vote, potentially weakening his grip on power.

Diaz was regional coordinator of the Democratic Action party, part of an opposition coalition against Maduro, though he was not running for office himself.

Observers have warned the elections could spark unrest in the Latin American nation of 30 million, already wracked by violence and an economic crisis that has left many families short of basic supplies.

Maduro rejected a claim by the chairman of Democratic Action, Henry Ramos Allup, that the shooter was a member of an armed gang linked to the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

"Forensic investigations and testimonies from people who were there show that is totally false and is a reckless accusation," he said in a speech to supporters.