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Violence mars resumed peace talks in Nicaragua

June 26, 2018

New talks brought new violence, raising the death toll that topped 200 in two months. Ortega says he will democratize Nicaragua, but the opposition accuses him of stalling, and the Catholic Church is making demands, too.

A masked person holds a metal shield
Image: Reuters/O. Rivas

Representatives from the embattled government of Daniel Ortega and the Civic Alliance opposition resumed talks Monday, one week after they had been suspended. The day ended without a resolution.

The fresh round of dialogue, moderated by the country's influential Catholic bishops, is aimed at stemming the violence that has engulfed the Central American nation over the past two months. However, as the parties met in the capital Managua, violence was reported in numerous Nicaraguan cities, resulting in unconfirmed deaths.

According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), at least 218 people have died and more than 1,300 have been injured since mid-April in a conflict that began as a protest to proposed state reforms, and morphed into a challenge over Ortega's increasing consolidation of power and growing government repression.

A government-backed commission places the number of deaths at 173.

Back to the talking table

Talks between Ortega's government and the opposition began in May, but fell through last week after the government refused to allow international human rights organizations to investigate the violence.

Monday's re-booted talks took on a familiar tone as the Civic Alliance accused the government of trying to keep the country from democratizing.

"What we have seen is that there is no opening, no political will (from the government) on this topic of democratization — a cry for real change from the people of Nicaragua," Daysi George, an opposition representative said. The opposition would like Ortega to resign.

Meanwhile, Nicaragua's influential bishops continued to ask Ortega for an answer on the proposal they put forth in early June, which calls for new elections in March 2019.

The 72-year-old president, who is in his third consecutive term, has yet to respond publicly. Ortega has said he is willing to allow for a separation of powers that all currently lie in his hands, including the national electoral committee.

Ortega has described the demonstrators as "vandals" and "terrorists" who are trying to destroy the country's long-held peace.

Armed police are "miraculous"

As the opposing sides sat down in the capital, violence and shootings were reported in at least five different cities as armed riot police and paramilitaries tore down barricades put up by civilian demonstrators. El Nuevo Diario said that at least five people had died, including a police officer, though the government has not yet confirmed this number.

Read more: Nicaragua using 'Sandinista mobs' to quash protests: report

However, the vice-president, Rosario Murillo, who is also Ortega's wife, confirmed that the government had ordered police to tear down civilian-built barricades. She also said that the armed operations were "miraculous events" because "they are part of God's work in Nicaragua."

A burned out car sits in the street
A school also went up in flames during Monday's violenceImage: Getty Images/AFP/M. Recinos

Human rights investigators condemn government

Also present at Monday's talks were representatives from the IAHCR, a part of the Organization of American States, who had arrived in Nicaragua on Sunday evening.

The IACHR hope to track the death toll and assist with investigations into human rights violations, including determining responsibility for the deaths that have taken place during the two-month-long crisis.

"These attacks that took place in the presence of the IACHR show the government's disregard for human rights and its disinterest in re-establishing peace and stability," IACHR members Leiva Alvaro Botero and Fiorella Melzi said.

Two Nicaraguan Catholic Clergy members will meet later this week with Pope Francis in the Vatican to discuss ways to resolve the ongoing crisis.

cmb/jm (EFE, AFP, dpa)

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