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article imageNicaragua releases 50 opposition prisoners

By AFP     Apr 5, 2019 in World

Nicaragua on Friday released 50 opposition prisoners held during nationwide protests against President Daniel Ortega, the interior ministry said, two days after the end of talks aimed at resolving a deadly year-long political crisis.

The prisoners were released into house arrest, bringing to 250 the number of government opponents freed under a similar regime since February 27.

Month-long talks between the government and the opposition Civic Alliance coalition broke up late Wednesday without agreement on political reform in the crisis-torn Central American country.

Ortega, a 72-year-old former guerrilla leader, has refused to step down to facilitate early elections in 2019 -- a key opposition demand after more than 300 people died in months of deadly protests against his rule.

Threatened by United States and European Union sanctions, the government on March 20 pledged to release all political prisoners within 90 days in an operation to be overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

However, the organization said it was "not involved in the release of the 50 people announced today," according to spokesman Alberto Cabezas.

On Thursday, the ICRC met with both sides in a bid to coordinate lists of opposition members held in prison.

The opposition says more than 800 people were jailed during a brutal crackdown on protests against Ortega's rule which began last April. The government says 350 were detained.

It said Friday's releases were a gesture of goodwill as part of its commitment to the peace process.

Cabezas said the ICRC was still "not in a position to determine date or deadlines in which this process will take place."

Friday's releases took prisoners and their families by surprise.

"I was always hoping to leave but when the time came it took me by surprise," Roger Martinez, a 35-year-old psychologist, told AFP.

Martinez, who served nine months of a four-and-a-half year sentence for manufacturing and trafficking in arms and explosives, said he was still unclear about the conditions of his release.

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