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article imageChurch says govt forces kill two on Nicaragua day of protest

By Maria Isabel SANCHEZ (AFP)     Jul 13, 2018 in World

Government forces in Nicaragua shot dead two young men at a protest site at a church Saturday, the clergy said, on the third day of nationwide demonstrations against President Daniel Ortega, a former revolutionary hero now accused of authoritarianism.

The latest violence brings to at least nine the toll in the Central American country since Thursday, when protesters intensified their opposition to the government after three months of unrest which have left around 270 people dead.

"They were shooting to kill," one young protester told reporters at the Managua Cathedral, where students were taken after fleeing the besieged parish church. "It was very hard. They had high-caliber weapons and we had only (home-made) mortars."

"Bullets were whistling over our heads... They even tried to burn the church with people inside," a student who used the nom de guerre El Negro told AFP.

In Managua, hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets in a protest parade on Saturday, demanding justice and early elections.

"Ortega wants us down on our knees. But he has not realized that this already has gone so much farther than any amount of fear we could have," said activist Azahalea Solis.

The latest events followed a general strike on Friday and a peaceful procession by thousands on Thursday.

"They are telling us that we have two dead and several wounded," Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes said upon reaching the besieged parish with Vatican envoy Stanislaw Waldemar Sommertag.

"This hurts us a lot," he added.

The events brought widespread condemnation and calls for an end to the violence, including from the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and officials of the US, Brazil and Chile.

- 'They want to kill' -

After a night of gunfire and fear at the church compound, the religious leaders mediated the release of dozens of students.

Waving Nicaraguan flags and with their fists raised, the freed students passed hundreds of supporters cheering on the road as motorists honked horns.

"Long live the students!" they shouted.

Church leaders reported two people killed and about 20 wounded in an attack by government-linked for...
Church leaders reported two people killed and about 20 wounded in an attack by government-linked forces on a church where students had taken refuge before mediation by clergy secured their release onto buses
MARVIN RECINOS, AFP

Church leaders reported about 20 people wounded.

Brenes said the government was "solely responsible for these actions," calling on it to guarantee the students' safety.

He said communications lines needed to remain open, even when the government was assailing the clerics attempting to mediate the dispute as "murderers" for working with protesters.

"We have said many times: not one more death," the cardinal said.

The students had been encamped at the parish since Friday and came under attack late that night following an assault on the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua next door, a last bastion of student resistance.

"They want to kill us!" the young people shouted, calling for help and saying they were surrounded. Their pleas came as gunfire continued around midnight, according to live broadcasts of local journalists trapped in the church.

Political tensions have soared since protests against a now-aborted pension reform began on April 18 and mushroomed into general opposition to Ortega and his government.

Students have been holed up at the university since the protests began, and a medic reported several injuries after pro-government forces opened fire.

"The escalation of violence against civil society, with physical aggression against the clergy, journalists and human rights defenders, is unacceptable," Brazil's Foreign Ministry said.

- Talking of peace -

Nicaraguan forces on Friday also attacked a neighborhood in the opposition bastion of Masaya, killing two, as Ortega called for peace.

He and his supporters began a procession from the capital to the opposition stronghold, 30 kilometers (19 miles) south. One of the dead on Friday was a policeman, a local rights group representative told AFP.

The rally celebrated the June 1979 "retreat" that saw thousands of guerrillas withdraw from Managua to Masaya to regroup, before securing victory on July 19 when the dictator Anastasio Somoza fled Nicaragua.

On Friday, protesters erected barricades to slow Ortega's procession.

Where he was once hunkered down with allies in Masaya fighting against a dictatorship, the 72-year-old head of state now is the one despised in the rebel heartland.

In Masaya, Ortega accused the opposition of acting "with venom and hate," and appealed for a return to "the road of peace."

"The government is hardening more and more every day," Vilma Nunez, president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), told AFP.

Banks, markets, gas stations, schools and shops remained closed among deserted streets during the general strike on Friday, which was called by the opposition Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy.

A pro-government Sandinista youth keeps watch as supporters of Nicaragua's President Daniel Ort...
A pro-government Sandinista youth keeps watch as supporters of Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega celebrate the 39th anniversary of the Sandinista military maneuver "El Repliegue" (The Retreat), in Masaya
Inti OCON, AFP

It came after four police officers and a protester died on Thursday in clashes between opposition activists and government forces and their paramilitary allies in the southeastern town of Morrito.

On Friday, police arrested opposition leader Medardo Mairena, accusing him of being a "terrorist" who organized and ordered the "attack" against the murdered police and protester.

The opposition Civic Alliance denounced Mairena's detention as an "act of intimidation."

The opposition is demanding either early elections or the resignation of Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, accusing them of corruption and despotism.

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