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Nicaragua: Bishops go to Masaya to 'prevent a massacre'

June 21, 2018

The death toll in Nicaragua keeps climbing after dialogue failed to halt a resurgence of government-led violence against protesters. The Nicaraguan clergy went to Masaya to provide support to the locals.

People gather at a funeral for 6 family members who died in Nicaragua's violence
Image: picture-alliance/A.Zuniga

As government forces have reportedly descended on Masaya, Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Baez traveled to the city on Thursday to "avert another massacre." Baez, who has been a leading voice in efforts to mediate the crisis, was accompanied on the trip by Vatican Ambassador Walter Sommertag.

Rights groups estimate that up to 215 people have died in the ongoing violence in Nicaragua. The government of President Daniel Ortega has only acknowledged 46 deaths.

Read more: Will Nicaragua be the next Venezuela?

"Nicaragua's pain is great. An unarmed people are being slaughtered. The cities are in the hands of bandits," Baez said on Thursday.

The Nicaraguan bishop said later on Thursday that police "agreed to stop the attacks" in Masaya.

Government forces turn on Masaya

Masaya was once a stronghold of Ortega's Sandinista revolution, but in the past two months it has become a focal point of the protests that seek to run him out of office.

Hundreds of police and pro-government gunmen arrived in the western Nicaraguan city on Tuesday, where protesters have erected barricades and declared the city to be "in rebellion."

Protesters fire back at government forces behind a barricade
Protesters in Masaya have battled pro-government forces behind makeshift barricadesImage: picture-alliance/dpa/O.Duarte

Nicaraguan Association of Human Rights head Alvaro Leiva said the pro-government forces used AK-47 assault rifles and Dragunov sniper rifles against civilian residents of the town.

Leiva reported that the southern neighborhood of Monimbo, an indigenous community, had been surrounded by as many as 600 armed men.

"It is a very serious situation, and we are afraid there have been injuries," Leiva told Nicaraguan media.

Cristian Fajardo, a student leader within the Nicaraguan opposition, said around 500 "hooded and heavily armed" men had also mobilized north of the Masaya at dawn on Thursday.

Read more: Nicaragua's student protest leaders determined to win back democracy

"It is incongruous to talk about dialogue and to be assassinating the people," Fajardo said.

The violence comes in the wake of another failed round of talks between the government and the opposition. Ortega has demanded that the opposition bring down the barricades they have installed in numerous highways. The opposition has demanded that the government call for early elections.

As neither side found a compromise, violence has reignited this week and the death toll continues to rise.

Experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the UN human rights chief's office and the EU are due to arrive in the Central American country to investigate the two-month wave of violence and to support efforts to restore calm.

jcg/sms (dpa, AFP)

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