MANAGUA: Four police officers and a protester died Thursday in Nicaragua, the latest in more than 260 fatalities in months of demonstrations against President Daniel Ortega — a one-time revolutionary hero now derided as a leftist despot.
The bloodshed kicked off three days of nationwide protests against the government of the poor Central American country, including a general strike on Friday and a car caravan through flashpoint areas of the capital Managua on Saturday.
The fatalities occurred in the southeast town of Morrito as protesters, some of them armed, came under attack from police and paramilitaries and responded with gunfire, said Francisca Ramirez, head of an opposition grouping called the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy.
Police did not immediately offer their version of events.
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 marched Thursday along downtown avenues in a violence-free procession. Referring to Ortega, many chanted,
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 told AFP.
The protests erupted in Nicaragua on April 18, initially against now-scrapped pension reform.
But they have since boiled over into demands for Ortega, the Sandinista guerrilla leader who led a revolt that ousted US-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, to step down.
Ortega ruled until 1990, and was then re-elected in 2007. He is now serving his third straight term. His detractors accuse him and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, of running a brutal dictatorship.
In Washington, the Organization of American States convened a session Friday 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.
Responding to the three-day protest movement, Ortega’s government has announced a counter-measure for Friday: a procession from Managua to Masaya, 30 kilometers (20 miles) to the south, in remembrance of the Sandinista revolution.
A lot has changed in Nicaragua since then.
Once a left-wing guerrilla leader who took over after Somoza was ousted by the Sandinista National Liberation Front, Ortega has himself become the focus of public ire.—AFP