Nicaragua government and opposition call weekend truce

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Managua (AFP)

The Nicaraguan government of President Daniel Ortega and opposition groups who have been leading demonstrations demanding his ouster started a weekend truce on Saturday to allow an investigation into 63 protester deaths.

The declared suspension of street protests and robust police responses came three days after both sides entered into talks to seek a resolution to the political crisis, which has gone on for a month.

The government has promised to withdraw riot police and pro-government groups, while the protesters -- largely led by university students -- were to ease blockades that had choked traffic and "facilitate the best possible conditions for dialogue," said a statement by Nicaragua's bishops, who are mediating the talks.

The aim of the two-day truce was to create a calmer climate for all Nicaraguans and guarantee the right to peaceful demonstration, said Managua's auxiliary bishop, Silvio Baez.

During the Saturday and Sunday it was taking effect, a delegation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was conducting a probe of the deaths recorded by rights groups since the protests erupted mid-April.

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

The talks opened on Wednesday.

The government was represented by Ortega and Murillo, who is also his vice president and government spokesperson.

The other side had representatives from the students, the private business sector, unions and other civil society actors, many of whom are demanding Ortega and Murillo step down.

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 people.