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article imageNicaragua opposition defies ban to march on deadly protest anniversary

By AFP     Apr 17, 2019 in World

Nicaragua's opposition said at least 67 people were arrested after defying a protest ban and a heavy riot police presence on the streets of Managua to mark the first anniversary of a deadly uprising against President Daniel Ortega.

The opposition National Unity Blue and White (UNAB) coalition gathered in the south of the capital, planning to march on the center, but was unable to do so due to the heavy police presence.

"The people will never be defeated," shouted protesters. "Freedom for political prisoners," they added from a roundabout in the south of the capital.

Journalist Abixael Mogollon from the "Articulo 66" website was among those arrested while transmitting live from the protest, UNAB said.

Articulo 66 director Alvaro Navarro said Mogollon was released a few hours later, but only after he'd been beaten and had his equipment confiscated.

Six of those arrested were freed, according to the opposition.

Protests first broke out on April 18 last year, initially against a now scrapped pension reform.

A brutal crackdown by Ortega's troops over the next four months left 325 dead, 800 in prison and thousands in exile.

UNAB had sent out a call to demonstrate under the slogan: "We're all April."

Police surrounded the protesters and journalists covering the demonstration amid an atmosphere of high tension, AFP reporters said.

Police had banned the rally, claiming the organizers were already "implicated in serious public order troubles" and warning "those who want to destroy peace."

On Wednesday morning, armed police and paramilitary groups took up strategic positions in the capital, whose streets were virtually empty due to Holy Week leading up to Easter.

On Tuesday, The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet called on "authorities to take measures to avoid the excessive use of force."

Student Dolly Mora, a UNAB member, told AFP: "We know they (police and paramilitaries) will repress" protesters, but added that she hoped "they won't shoot or use irrational violence."

The organizers had advised protesters to move around in groups of a minimum of 10 people and prepare in advance their escape routes and refuge points.

All demonstrations have been banned since September.

That's a major reason peace talks between Ortega's government and the opposition Civic Alliance coalition of students, business leaders, peasants and civil society groups broke down two weeks ago following a month of negotiations.

On March 20, and following threats from the United States and European Union to impose sanctions, the government pledged to release all political prisoners within 90 days, but 600 remain behind bars.

Ortega has also steadfastly refused to countenance a key opposition demand to stand down and bring forward elections slated for 2021.

The opposition accuses the 73-year-old former left-wing guerrilla leader, who first came to power in 1979 following the fall of the US-backed Somoza family dictatorship, of rights abuses and authoritarian leadership.

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