Police have blamed "criminal gangs" for attacking mothers marching against the government's brutal campaign. But human rights groups say police are colluding with paramilitary forces to suppress demonstrations.
Nicaraguan police on Thursday said 15 people were killed and 218 more injured in violence that erupted across the country during Mothers' Day protests the day before.
Francisco Diaz, deputy director of the national police, blamed "criminal gangs" for the deadly incidents, saying: "The government rejects any responsibility in that violence."
But human rights groups have cast doubt on the government's narrative, with Amnesty International saying earlier this week that police are colluding with paramilitary forces to quash demonstrations.
Wave of deadly protests
On Wednesday, mothers whose children died during anti-government protests had taken to the streets to protest the government's use of deadly force.
But those marches also turned deadly when they were attacked police and pro-government youth groups, according to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH).
At least 11 people were killed and hundreds more injured in the capital Managua during the Mother's Day violence, according to the center.
Police say 39 people have been killed since anti-government protests erupted in April over pension and social security reforms, but rights groups say the figure is closer to 100. Most of the victims are students.
'Going to stay'
Unsatisfied with the government's withdrawal of the reforms, protesters are now calling on Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, who serves as vice president, to step down.
But Ortega on Wednesday vowed to remain in power, saying: "Nicaragua belongs to all of us, and here we are all going to stay."
Luis Almagro, who heads the Organization of American States (OAS) called on Ortega's government to end its violent campaign against protesters. Earlier this week, he said fresh elections are the only forward.
"Anyone who thinks there is a solution for Nicaragua other than an electoral one is seriously wrong," Almagro said.
ls/rc (AFP, AP, dpa, EFE)