A day after five people were killed in violence surrounding protests against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a 24-hour opposition-called strike was held yesterday.
Four police officers and a protester died on Thursday as clashes erupted between opposition activists and government forces and their paramilitary allies, taking the death toll over three months of protests in the impoverished Central American country to around 270.
“Let’s empty the streets because we want an end to repression and because we want them to go,” the opposition Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy grouping said a few hours before the strike began at midnight (0600GMT), referring to Ortega and his wife Vice President Rosario Murillo.
Alongside the opposition’s strike, former left-wing guerrilla leader Ortega had announced his own procession yesterday to celebrate a significant event in his coming to power in 1979 following a popular uprising, known as the “retreat.”
The controversial procession proceeded from the capital Managua to the long-time opposition stronghold of Masaya, 30kms to the south.
Where once the revolutionary leader Ortega was hunkered down with Sandinista National Liberation Front allies in Masaya fighting the US-backed right-wing dictator Anastasio Somoza, the 72-year-old head of state is now public enemy number one.
Political tensions have soared in Nicaragua since protests against a now-aborted pension reform began on April 18 before mushrooming into general opposition to Ortega and his government, increasingly viewed as repressive, despotic and nepotic.
The latest bloodshed kicked off three days of nationwide protests against the government, starting with Thursday’s march through Managua and due to end with a car caravan through flashpoint areas of the capital today.
Thursday’s fatalities occurred in the southeast town of Morrito as marching protesters, some of them armed, came under attack from police and paramilitaries, and responded with gunfire, said Francisca Ramirez, head of the Civic Alliance.
Police confirmed the death toll but blamed the violence on “terrorist groups” that pretended to be carrying out a peaceful march and opened fire on a police station.
Protesters also abducted nine police officers and attacked the Morrito town hall, the police said in a statement.
Morrito is a town of 6,000 that is home to many farmers who own guns to protect their land.
In Managua, thousands of people waving blue and white Nicaraguan flags had marched along downtown avenues in a violence-free procession. Referring to Ortega, many chanted, “He must go!”
Carolina Aguilar, 52, accused the Ortega government of killing protesters with impunity. “We cannot live with a murderer, with a scorpion that kills us day after day. I would give my life for this end,” she said.
In Washington, the Organisation of American States convened a session yesterday to discuss the crisis in Nicaragua. And a commission of the US House of Representatives unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution accusing the Ortega government of repression.
“The continued violence and oppression of the Ortega regime is reprehensible,” said Paul Cook, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs western hemisphere subcommittee.
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