Ortega forces launch crackdown on opposition bastion of Masaya

Marvin Recinos, AFP | Anti-government protesters pictured during clashes with riot police and members of the Sandinista youth in Masaya on June 21.

Nicaraguan bishops warned Thursday that the opposition bastion of Masaya was at risk of a "massacre" amid a crackdown by forces loyal to President Daniel Ortega.


Nicaragua's bishops said they were going to the opposition bastion of Masaya on Thursday "to avert another massacre" after it came under attack from forces loyal to President Daniel Ortega.

The city -- which this week declared itself in rebellion to Ortega's rule -- was under "disproportionate" attack from police and paramilitary forces, a human rights group said.

The pro-government forces were using AK47s and Dragunov sniper rifles against civilian residents of the town, Nicaraguan Association of Human Rights head Alvaro Leiva said.

"It's deplorable to see how our brothers are dying," one local resident told AFP in the neighborhood of Monimbo, an indigenous neighborhood believed to be the target of the operation.

"If we had weapons, it would be weapons against weapons, but this is very unequal. Help us against these murderers who are killing our people," he said.

The bishops -- tasked last month with mediating an increasingly bloody confrontation between the opposition and government -- said they had decided to go to Masaya "to avoid another massacre, give comfort and pray with our people."

An AFP team in Monimbo reported that local residents were resisting with homemade mortars and that locals claimed government forces had set fire to some houses.

Some people had come into the streets, crying, kneeling on the ground and waving makeshift white flags.

The latest round of talks collapsed on Monday, with the bishops and opposition accusing the government of failing to act on a promise to allow international organizations investigate the violence.

'Nicaragua in pain'

"Nicaragua's pain is great. An unarmed people is being slaughtered. The cities are in the hands of bandits," Managua's Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Baez said during mass on Thursday.

Funerals were held for three people killed in clashes in the flashpoint city on Tuesday, bringing to 212 the number killed since protests against Ortega's government began on April 18.

More than 20 people have been killed in Masaya, 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of the capital Managua.

Riot police and paramilitaries had deployed Tuesday in the historically combative city after its declaration of rebellion.

"I appeal to President Ortega to stop the massacre of the people of Monimbo," said Leiva.

"It is incongruous to talk about dialogue and to be assassinating the people," he said.

Cristian Fajardo, one of the leaders of a student movement spearheading two months of protests against Ortega's rule, said around 500 "hooded and heavily armed" men had moved into the north of the city at dawn on Thursday.

Residents remained inside their homes as riot police and paramilitaries patrolled the streets, firing shots and removing barricades locals had erected.

Ortega's wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo, has said her husband "is committed to curbing this wave of terrorism, hate crimes, kidnappings, threats and intimidation."

The pro-Ortega forces used tractors and tow trucks brought in from the nearby capital Managua to clear barricades from the main road leading to the city on Tuesday as they prepared the assault.

Masaya, once a stronghold of Ortega's Sandinista revolution, has been a focal point of protests aimed at forcing him out of office.

A onetime leftist guerrilla, Ortega led the country from 1979 to 1990 and then returned to the presidency in 2007, now serving his third consecutive term.


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