Rights body calls on Nicaragua to halt repression, protest deaths rise

Managua (AFP) –


The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Friday called for Nicaragua's government to "immediately halt the repression of protests" against President Daniel Ortega, as the death toll rose to 63.

The wave of unrest against the 72-year-old Ortega has been going on for a month, with no sign of slowing.

Initially triggered by now-aborted reforms to the near-bankrupt social security system, it has broadened into a rejection by many Nicaraguans of Ortega and his wife and vice president Rosario Murillo, seen as autocratic.

Most of the dead have been youths, often university students who have been leading the demonstrations.

On Friday the latest fatality was a 16-year-old boy run over by a bus as he stood by a roadblock near the Polytechnic University in Managua. Student leaders said the bus driver was a paramilitary.

The non-governmental Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights said it has recorded 63 deaths since the unrest first erupted April 18. It has also counted around 60 disappearances.

- Urged to step down -

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States, called for Ortega's government to cease the "repression."

"We reiterate our most emphatic condemnation of the deaths, disappearances and arbitrary arrests of protesters, activists and journalists that have been registered in the country since the protests started," the Commission's special rights rapporteur for Nicaragua, Antonia Urrejola, said, reading a Commission statement at a Managua news conference.

The body urged Nicaragua's government to permit freedom of expression, the right to peaceful demonstration and political participation for all.

The developments came on the second day of talks between Ortega and opposition forces that include representatives of the students, employer groups and unions.

One of the student leaders, Lester Aleman, 20, said "the unrest is not only from the students but from all the population."

He insisted that the only solution was for Ortega and Murillo to step down.

The turmoil is already seen to be having an effect on the economy of Nicaragua, one of Latin America's poorest countries.

Trade and tourism appear to have taken a hit, and an economist, Nestor Avendano, told Canal 15 television that dollar deposits fell five percent in the first two weeks of the protests.

Ortega, a former Sandinista guerrilla who first ruled between 1979 and 1990 before returning as president 11 years ago, had kept power by maintaining leftist rhetoric while ensuring an accommodation with powerful private industry and keeping up trade with the United States.

But that arrangement looks to be falling apart, with business groups distancing themselves from him over the violence exhibited by his police against protesters, and the military saying they will not repress the population.