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Ortega holds crisis talks with Nicaragua opposition after unrest

World Desk |
Inserted: 14:18, Thursday 17 May 2018

Ortega holds crisis talks with Nicaragua opposition after unrest - World
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega speaks during the "national dialogue" aimed at quellin a month of anti-government unrest -- the worst he has faced in his past 11 years as president. AFP / INTI OCON

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega opened talks on Wednesday with opposition groups in a bid to quell a month of anti-government unrest that has seen more than 50 people killed, reports AFP.

The Church-mediated dialogue, which got underway in the capital Managua, involved representatives of university students who are leading the protests against Ortega as well as some from business groups and unions.

Ortega told the room that the aim of the talks was to "get past this tragic moment" and restore "peace" to the country, one of Latin America's poorest.

He was however interrupted by student representatives calling him a "murderer" and urging "an end to the repression."

"We have come to demand you order the immediate halt of the attacks. You're the boss of the paramilitaries, of the troops, of the mobs backing the government," said a leader of the student coalition, Lester Aleman.

The unrest was the worst faced by Ortega in his past 11 years as president.

The protests were initially triggered by an aborted attempt to reform the near-bankrupt social security system, but quickly morphed into a street movement demanding Ortega's ouster over a range of grievances.

Students at Wednesday's talks shouted slogans in support of those killed in the unrest. AFP / INTI OCON

Rights groups say at least 58 people were killed, the majority of them protesters.

Ortega said Nicaragua's police now have orders to not open fire. He also said that "the deaths were on all sides," not only that of the protesters.

Late Wednesday, foreign minister Denis Moncada announced an 11-strong delegation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights would arrive in Managua on Thursday to observe the situation on the ground. The government had at first rejected such a mission while a parliament-created commission probed the deaths.

The 72-year-old leader, who previously ruled between 1979 and 1990, is a former leftist Sandinista guerrilla who helped overthrow the US-backed dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, but who himself has become seen as dictatorial.

He has increasingly wielded power jointly with his wife Rosario Murillo, who is both his vice president and chief government spokesperson.

The talks came one day after the most recent clashes between protesters and police, in the northern town of Matagalpa, which has long been under the sway of Ortega's Sandinista Front party.

Anti-government demonstrators shout slogans outside the venue for Wednesday's crisis talks, which are being mediated by the country's Catholic bishops. AFP / DIANA ULLOA

The town's mayor, Sadrach Zeledon, said one person was killed by "right-wing vandalism groups," referring to the demonstrators, who in turn said the victim, Wilber Reyes, was killed in attacks launched by police.

The Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights spokesman in the city, German Herrera, told local TV station 100% Noticias that 35 people were injured in the clashes on Tuesday and at least 10 people had been arrested.

The same day in Masaya, 30 kilometers (20 miles) southeast of Managua, residents reported harsh repression by riot police, while in the capital, parents and students from private high schools marched to demand justice and freedom.

Ortega had accepted the notion of talks in the early days of the crackdown, but they were delayed for weeks. The Church deemed he had not fulfilled conditions under which they could be held -- among them that a regional human rights group be allowed to visit.

Ortega made a series of other previous concessions after sharp domestic and international criticism over the use of security forces to put down the protests, and curbs on independent media to report them.

Ortega's concessions included abandoning the social security reforms, freeing dozens of arrested protesters, lifting broadcast bans on private TV channels, and offering dialogue.



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