At least four hurt in new Nicaragua protest violence

Managua (AFP) –


At least four people were hurt in new protests flaring in Nicaragua, where students have led weeks of anti-government demonstrations demanding that President Daniel Ortega leave power, according to rights groups.

The latest violence erupted Sunday between pro- and anti-government demonstrators in the southern region of Masaya. Riot police fired tear gas to try to quell the protesters.

The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) said it had confirmation of four people being injured so far, but was looking into other reports. Students who took part in the anti-government protest said they had a far higher count of those hurt.

"In the medical post alone, there were 45 injured" in the town of Catarina, one student told reporters.

The students blamed police and pro-government sympathizers for the clashes.

The protests that broke out against Ortega in mid-April were initially deadly, with the CENIDH saying 45 people were killed as riot police used rough tactics to try to suppress the street movement.

The level of violence has subsided in the past week, after Ortega ordered the release of dozens of arrested protesters and held out the promise of talks.

But tensions persist, with students and other Nicaraguans saying they are fed up with the perceived autocracy of Ortega and his vice president and wife Rosario Murillo.

The parliament has created a truth commission to investigate the deaths, but students and rights groups have questioned its impartiality and demanded an outside probe.

Ortega, a 72-year-old leftist leader who has ruled Nicaragua for the past 11 years, has yet to engage in dialogue, despite increasing pleas from the Catholic Church, which has offered to mediate.

The wave of anti-Ortega unrest was triggered by an aborted attempt to reform the near-bankrupt social security system, but quickly expanded to include a wave of grievances against the president, including claims of corruption and repression.

The protests pose a serious challenge to Ortega's authority, though thus far no figure has emerged to front the anti-government movement.

Nicaragua's powerful private business lobby initially sided with the protesters but then said they believed Ortega -- who also ruled the country for six years in the 1980s -- had made sufficient gestures to allow for talks to happen.