Tens of thousands protest anew in Nicaragua

Managua (AFP) –


Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to Nicaragua's streets Wednesday, rallied by students demanding justice, democracy and the departure of President Daniel Ortega.

Throngs of young people, who have rallied on and off in weeks of demonstrations, chanted "They were students; they weren't criminals" -- referring to people killed in the unrest that exploded on April 18.

The protests broke out against Ortega in mid-April but their deadliness, the brutality of the repression by security forces and arbitrary arrests, sparked national outrage and fueled protests across the Central American nation.

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 Roman Catholic Church, which has offered to mediate.

Demonstrators chanted "They must go" and waved signs charging that Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, are "thieves" and "murderers."

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

The latest rally included university students, farmers, small business owners and other people around the country.

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.