Nicaraguan bishops to launch crisis talks Wednesday

Managua (AFP) –


Nicaragua's powerful bishops announced Monday they are engaging in talks to resolve a crisis that has left scores dead in the wake of a crackdown on anti-government protests.

At least 51 people have been killed in almost a month of protests, initially over cuts to the social security system. The unrest morphed into broader discontent with the leftist government of President Daniel Ortega.

Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, head of the Nicaraguan Bishops Conference, said a national dialogue would begin on Wednesday, "even though the circumstances for dialogue are not the best."

Brenes told a news conference the talks would deal with issues designed "to pave the way for democratization" in the central American country.

Nicaragua earlier agreed to a visit by a regional human rights body to investigate the violence, the head of the Organization of American States said.

The bishops had insisted the rights investigators be allowed into the country before agreeing to the talks, initially proposed by the government and in which the bishops would act as mediators.

The government's overture came after Nicaragua's army appeared to distance itself over the weekend from Ortega, who is facing the worst protests since he returned to power 11 years ago.

At least 51 people have been killed since the protests erupted in mid-April.

In a statement released by OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, Nicaragua's Foreign Minister Denis Moncada said his government has consented to a working visit by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights "as soon as possible."

The visit aims "to observe 'in loco' the human rights situation in Nicaragua in the context of the events from April 18 to the present," the statement said.

On Sunday, thousands of people marched in the city of Masaya -- the birthplace of the Sandinista revolution 40 years ago -- after violent clashes with security forces there late Friday.

Ortega initially came to power at the head of the 1978-79 revolution that overthrew the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza.