Nicaraguan lawmakers set up truth commission after protest deaths

Managua (AFP) –


Mostly pro-government lawmakers in Nicaragua on Sunday set up a truth commission to investigate the deaths of at least 45 anti-government, mostly student demonstrators, over two weeks.

The five-member panel of investigators, which will act outside the legislature, is free to probe as they deem appropriate, said legislature speaker Gustavo Porras, an ally of President Daniel Ortega.

The investigators are due to report back to lawmakers within a three-month deadline.

The protests against Ortega erupted on April 18 and claimed at least 45 lives, according to human rights groups. Officials stopped updating their toll after counting 10 deaths in the first three days.

Initially triggered by reforms to cut spending on Nicaragua's deficit-laden social security system -- later abandoned by Ortega -- the protests swelled to include other grudges against the 72-year-old president, widely seen as autocratic and distant.

The protests are the worst Ortega has faced in the past 11 years, since the leftist former Sandinista rebel returned to power after a lengthy stint in opposition.

The demonstrations however have become more peaceful in recent days. Ortega has said he is willing to hold talks to calm the situation but made few moves to follow through.

The students have also already demanded an independent commission be set up to investigate the protest deaths, and given a deadline of Tuesday.

Students and the political opposition have called for a nationwide demonstration for Wednesday.

The president's Sandinista party has an absolute majority in the one-chamber assembly in Managua.