Nicaragua's army distances itself from Ortega

Managua (AFP) –


Nicaragua's army on Saturday distanced itself from President Daniel Ortega, saying it was not repressing anyone for taking part in anti-government protests.

Ortega is facing his worst opposition in the streets in many years.

Unrest against Ortega exploded in mid-April, and at least 45 mostly student demonstrators were killed. The toll is now 51.

"We have no reason to repress anyone" for anti-government demonstrations, Army spokesman Manuel Guevara said. "We think that dialogue is the answer," he stressed.

Guevara said the military rejected what he sees as effort to misconstrue military actions as repression on behalf of the Ortega government.

Troops are required to protect strategic locations, national assets and national parks, for example.

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.