Nicaragua protesters defy Ortega crackdown

Sunday, July 22, 2018

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MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AFP) — Hundreds of protesters marched in Nicaragua's capital yesterday in defiance of an iron-fisted crackdown on dissent by President Daniel Ortega that includes a new law threatening them with up to 20 years in prison for “terrorism”.

The rally, for which police were absent, passed off peacefully, unlike in previous days and weeks when Ortega's police and paramilitary forces violently attacked student demonstrators in Managua and a nearby opposition stronghold city, Masaya, with live ammunition.

More than 280 people have been killed since April in the unrest shaking the small Central American nation of six million people.

“The people united will never be defeated,” yelled the crowd. They reiterated widespread demands that Ortega and his wife, Vice-President Rosario Murillo, step down.

Many of those taking part hid their faces behind masks.

But they said they were still turning out despite a law passed last Monday that carries prison terms of 15 to 20 years for those found guilty of vaguely defined actions deemed to constitute “terrorism”.

“This law doesn't matter to us,” one 23-year-old protester who gave her name as Maria told AFP. “It's a risk, but as with every big insurrection there's a risk.”

She added: “The protests aren't going to stop. We will continue in the streets demanding freedom.”

The legislation bolstered perceptions that Ortega, 72, and his Government were acting in increasingly undemocratic ways.

Ortega and Murillo, though, say their Government is fighting a “coup” attempt by US-financed “satanic terrorists” and that stern action is required.

Their supporters held a rival rally in Managua yesterday in which they demanded justice for “victims of terrorism” — mainly for dozens of police officers killed in the months of bloodshed.

The United States, the Organization for American States and the European Union have all condemned the violence in Nicaragua and backed calls for dialogue trying to have Ortega agree to early elections to help solve the crisis.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said as he arrived in Argentina for a G20 meeting of finance ministers that more US sanctions could be levelled at Nicaragua.

Two EU nations, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, announced the suspension of millions of dollars in aid projects to Nicaragua because of the rights violations reported there.

But Ortega is showing no signs of ceding power.

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