Catholic bishops "wanted to cause a coup d'etat in Nicaragua," President Daniel Ortega told his supporters while marking the anniversary of the 1979 revolution. Ortega also hinted at a US-led conspiracy to topple him.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega slammed the top Catholic clergy as allies of "coup mongers" on Thursday, following months of anti-government unrest which claimed hundreds of lives.
Ortega lauded his government's response to the crisis while addressing tens of thousands of his supporters in Managua. The Thursday rally was part of a country-wide celebration of the 39th anniversary of the revolution which saw Ortega, then a Marxist guerilla commander, first seize power in 1979.
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The 73-year-old leader also said that Catholic bishops were working against him and that churches have been used to stockpile weapons and stage attacks.
"What they wanted was to cause was a coup d'etat in Nicaragua," he told his supporters.
He also accused "the North American empire" of leading an "armed conspiracy" against him, supported by right-wing business people.
The church suffers for 'families that are crying'
The UN, the US, and the Organization of American States (OAS) have all criticized Ortega's government for the brutal crackdownagainst the wave of anti-government protests which started in April.
Nicaraguan archbishop Silvio Jose Baez also repeatedly urged Ortega to stop the bloodshed. The high-ranking clergy increased their criticism of the government as violence escalated, with heavily armed police and paramilitaries rushing to break down opposition strongholds ahead of the anniversary celebration.
Following Ortega's Thursday speech, Baez shot back on Twitter, saying that the church "does not suffer for being slandered, attacked or persecuted."
"It suffers for those who have been assassinated, for those families that are crying, for those unjustly detained and for those who flee repression," he said.
Venezuela offers 'blood' for Nicaragua
At the same time, Ortega received enthusiastic backing by a fellow embattled leader from Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro.
"We congratulate the heroic Nicaraguan people," Maduro tweeted. "Today, against imperial aggression, Nicaragua's government has defeated the terrorist and coup-driven plot."
Separately, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said his country was ready to "defend Nicaraguan sovereignty and independence, to offer our blood for Nicaragua."
Venezuela has historically backed Ortega by offering his government oil at low prices. The deal, however, is under pressure due to Venezuelan economy crumbling and anti-Maduro unrest.
dj/rc (EFE, AP, AFP, dpa)