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article imageNicaragua's way out of crisis is early elections: OAS

By AFP     May 23, 2018 in World

Early elections are the only way for crisis-gripped Nicaragua to restore peace, the head of the Organization of American States (OAS) said Wednesday, after a spate of recent anti-government unrest left at least 76 dead.

"Anyone who thinks there is a solution for Nicaragua other than an electoral one is seriously wrong," said Luis Almagro, head of the Washington-based pan-American group.

Almagro said he was calling for a "free, fair and transparent electoral process" in the Central American nation led by leftist President Daniel Ortega.

Initially triggered by now-aborted reforms to the near-bankrupt social security system, Nicaragua's protest movement has broadened into a rejection by many Nicaraguans of Ortega along with his wife and vice president Rosario Murillo.

Demonstrators have voiced frustrations over corruption, the autocratic style of Ortega and Murillo, limited options to change the country's politics in elections, and the president's control over Congress, the courts, the military and the electoral authority.

Ortega is a former Sandinista guerrilla who first ruled between 1979 and 1990, before returning as president 11 years ago.

He kept power by maintaining leftist rhetoric while keeping ties with a powerful private industry and continuing to trade with the United States.

But that arrangement looks to be falling apart, with business groups distancing themselves from him over the violence exhibited by his police against protesters, and the military saying they will not repress the people.

The protests that erupted on April 18 were the worst his government has faced, badly shaking his tight grip on power over the country, one of the poorest in Latin America.

Ortega made a series of concessions after coming under sharp domestic and international criticism over the use of security forces to put down the protests -- and curbs on independent media to report them.

Yet on Monday, thousands of demonstrators pushed for his immediate resignation. Ortega and Murillo were elected in November 2016 for a term that ends in January 2022.

Though local bishops in the mostly Roman Catholic nation tried to mediate a deal between the government and opposition forces, they threw in the towel late Wednesday.

"Since there was no consensus today between the parties, we in the bishops' conference regrettably are shutting down the ... national dialogue," church officials said after eight fruitless hours of mediation at a Managua seminary.

The biggest major stumbling block is the government's rejection of early elections.

"That would be dismantling constitutional order and the democratically elected government," foreign minister Denis Moncada said.

Before protests broke out, Almagro and an OAS team had been trying to mediate in a process aimed at bringing about new elections, as well as electoral reforms.

Almagro was blunt in his critique of Managua's handling of OAS involvement and the deadly unrest.

"They lied trying to hide our condemnation of the killings of demonstrators; they lied about our efforts to send a human rights team there; they lied about our position on early elections in Nicaragua; and they lied about there being secret agreements with the Government," he stressed.

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