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Nicaragua's way out of crisis is early elections: OAS

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Washington (AFP)

Early elections are the only way for crisis-gripped Nicaragua to restore peace, the head of the Organization of American States said Wednesday, after anti-government unrest left at least 76 dead.

"Anyone who thinks there is a solution for Nicaragua other than an electoral one is seriously wrong," said Luis Almagro, head of the Washington-based pan-American group.

Almagro said he was calling for a "free, fair and transparent electoral process" in the Central American nation led by leftist President Daniel Ortega.

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

Ortega is a former Sandinista guerrilla who first ruled between 1979 and 1990 before returning as president 11 years ago.

He 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.

The protests that erupted on April 18 were the worst his government has faced, badly shaking his tight grip on power over the country, one of the poorest in Latin America.

Ortega made a series of concessions after sharp domestic and international criticism over the use of security forces to put down the protests, and curbs on independent media to report them.

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