Mexico activist killed days before pipeline referendum

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A community activist fighting against a plan to build a gas pipeline through his central Mexico town was killed Wednesday, three days before a scheduled public referendum on the energy generation project.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador condemned the murder of Samir Flores Soberanes as "vile, cowardly." But Lopez Obrador said the public referendum on the Morelos Comprehensive Project will go on as scheduled.

Local communities have been fighting for years against the project, which would include two thermoelectric plants, a gas pipeline to supply the plant with natural gas from Tlaxcala state and an aqueduct. The mostly indigenous communities around the Popocatepetl volcano, including Flores' town of Amilcingo, have concerns about health, safety and the water supply.

The Peoples in Defense of Land and Water Front, of which Flores was a member, said in a statement that two vehicles parked in front of Flores' home around 5 a.m. Wednesday. People inside the vehicles called to him and then shot him when he came out.

The Morelos state government said in a statement that Flores was shot in the doorway to his home and died later at a nearby hospital. It said the murder was under investigation, but so far there "is no indication that the murder is related to" the upcoming referendum. It said the state security apparatus knows of a high number of criminal groups operating in the area.

The environmental group said that a day earlier, Flores had attended a public forum about the project and challenged government representatives' statements. Mexico's national electric company is behind the project, which has been under consideration since at least 2011. The group said Flores had been threatened a number of times since 2012.

The group said it had warned Lopez Obrador in a letter that pushing ahead with the referendum on the project could lead to violence in the area and it blamed the federal government for his death.

Lopez Obrador said the killing would be investigated, but the public vote would go on. "I'm very sorry about the murder," he said. "The consultation we have to continue because it is a process that was already agreed to."

Lopez Obrador has used referendums to let the public decide on other large projects. One conducted before he took office resulted in the cancellation of Mexico City's new international airport. Another gave a green light to Lopez Obrador's preferred project, a "Maya train" that would connect the resorts of Cancun and Tulum with ruins in Palenque and other spots on the Yucatan Peninsula.