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UN rights chief mulls probe of Nicaragua violence

© AFP | Protests for two months have escalated in a bid to pressure Ortega to stand down

GENEVA (AFP) - 

The United Nations rights chief on Monday said a high-level international probe of swelling violence in Nicaragua might be warranted, and urged the government to invite in UN monitors "without delay".

"I deplore the violence," Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said as he opened a session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

"The gravity of these developments may well merit an international commission of inquiry," he said, referring to the UN's highest-level international rights investigation.

Protests for two months have escalated in a bid to pressure President Daniel Ortega to stand down, and which government has met with brutal repression.

The unrest has left 178 people dead and at least 1,500 injured.

Nicaragua's descent into chaos was triggered on April 18, when relatively small protests against now-scrapped social security reforms were met with a government crackdown.

Those demonstrations mushroomed into a popular uprising, with anti-government protesters facing off against police and pro-Ortega paramilitaries.

The latest violence comes as the country's Catholic bishops attempt to reboot fragile negotiations between government and civil society.

Zeid urged the government to respect its commitments at the resumption of a so-called National Dialogue, including "the cessation of all forms of violence and threats thereof."

The talks have so far concluded that Managua will urge the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights -- an autonomous branch of the Organization of American States -- to investigate all the deaths and acts of violence, and help ensure accountability, Catholic bishops said.

Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes revealed the Church had asked Ortega to move up the next general election -- a move activists have vehemently called for -- to 2019 from the currently slated 2021.

Zeid meanwhile urged the government to honour its commitment "to extend an urgent invitation to OHCHR (the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) to visit the country, as we have repeatedly requested."

"This invitation should be sent without delay," he said.

© 2018 AFP