Lat­est round of protest vi­o­lence kills 5

Bangkok Post - - WORLD -

MAN­AGUA: Four po­lice of­fi­cers and a pro­tester died on Thurs­day in Nicaragua, the lat­est in around 270 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 yes­ter­day and a car car­a­van through flash­point ar­eas of the cap­i­tal Man­agua to­day.

The 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 an op­po­si­tion group­ing called the Civic Al­liance for Jus­tice and Democ­racy.

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 marched on Thurs­day along down­town av­enues in a vi­o­lence-free pro­ces­sion. Re­fer­ring to Mr 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.

The protests erupted in Nicaragua on April 18, ini­tially against now-scrapped pen­sion re­form. But they have since boiled over into de­mands for Mr Ortega, the San­din­ista guer­rilla leader who led a re­volt that ousted US-backed dic­ta­tor Anas­ta­sio So­moza in 1979, to step down.

Mr 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 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.

Re­spond­ing to the three-day protest move­ment, Mr Ortega’s gov­ern­ment an­nounced a counter-mea­sure for yes­ter­day: a pro­ces­sion from Man­agua to Masaya, 30 kilo­me­tres to the south, in re­mem­brance of the San­din­ista revo­lu­tion.

A l ot has changed i n Nicaragua since then.

Once a left-wing guer­rilla leader who took over af­ter So­moza was ousted by the San­din­ista Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Front, Mr Ortega has him­self be­come the fo­cus of pub­lic ire.

Dur­ing his stint in power from 1979 to 1990, Mr Ortega’s gov­ern­ment had to fight US-backed counter-rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies known as the Con­tra.

Mr Ortega’s an­nual pro­ces­sion to Masaya com­mem­o­rates the July 19 pop­u­lar uprising that ended 43 years of the So­moza fam­ily dy­nasty.

Masaya is now, as it was then, a bas­tion of op­po­si­tion re­sis­tance to an op­pres­sive regime — only Mr Ortega, 72, is no longer

a friend but the en­emy.

News of Mr Ortega’s pro­ces­sion has struck fear among the in­dige­nous com­mu­nity of Mon­imbo, a south­ern sub­urb of Masaya, where cit­i­zens have built bar­ri­cades of bricks to keep out gov­ern­ment forces.

Last week in two nearby towns at least 14 peo­ple were killed af­ter po­lice and pro­gov­ern­ment paramil­i­taries moved in to clear bar­ri­cades.

“No one’s com­ing in, un­less they kill ev­ery last one of us,” a man, guard­ing a Mon­imbo bar­ri­cade with his face cov­ered by a cap and olive green shirt, said.

Prior to Thurs­day’s five new fa­tal­i­ties, the death toll from the three months of protests stood at at 264, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter-Amer­i­can Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights.

EPA-EFE

A pro­tester fires a home­made mor­tar as peo­ple par­tic­i­pate dur­ing the demon­stra­tion ‘to­gether we are a vol­cano’, in Man­agua.

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