Nicaragua's Ortega to attend crisis talks with opposition

Managua (AFP) –


Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega will attend long-awaited crisis talks with the opposition after nearly a month of violence that left scores dead, officials said Tuesday.

The Central American country's Roman Catholic bishops said earlier this week they would mediate in the so-called "national dialogue" scheduled to begin on Wednesday.

"Tomorrow, from 10 in the morning, once the national dialogue is opened by the bishops, our president will be there, we will be there," said Ortega's wife and government spokeswoman, Rosario Murillo.

Demonstrators and riot-police clashed Tuesday in the northern town of Matagalpa, which is ruled by Ortega's Sandinista Front party.

The education ministry said on its website that local high schools had been closed due to the clashes as a security precaution.

Ortega had accepted the notion of talks in the early days of the crackdown, but the church deemed he had not fulfilled conditions in which they could be held. Among them is a visit by a regional human rights group which has finally been given permission to enter the country to investigate reports of widespread police brutality.

At least 53 people have been killed and some 400 injured in almost a month of protests, which initially broke out over proposed cuts to social security benefits, but morphed into widespread discontent with Ortega's leftist government.

The protests pose a serious challenge to the authority of Ortega, 72, who has ruled Nicaragua for the past 11 years and before that from 1979-1990, after overthrowing the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza.