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Anti-Ortega protesters in Nicaragua launch general strike

Protesters demanding Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s resignation prepare for a general strike Friday, part of three-day protests, which began Thursday in the impoverished Central American nation.


The streets of Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, turned into a sea of blue-and-white, the colours of the Nicaraguan flag, on Thursday as thousands of protesters took to the streets in anti-government demonstrations.

"Nicaragua asks for justice, asks for freedom for the people, for a Nicaragua that we really want,” explained a protester, shouting above the din of protesters calling for Ortega’s ouster.

Protests turned deadly in the southeastern town of Morrito as marching protesters, some of them armed, came under attack from police and paramilitaries and responded with gunfire, said Francisca Ramirez, head of an opposition grouping called the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy.

Four police officers and a protester died in Morrito on Thursday, according to the local police.

Revolutionary turned leftist despot

The three-day national strike -- including a general strike on Friday and a car caravan through flashpoint areas of Managua on Saturday – is the latest display of public discontent against Ortega, one-time revolutionary hero now derided as a leftist despot.

The protests erupted in Nicaragua on April 18, initially against now-scrapped pension reform. But they have since boiled over into demands for Ortega, the Sandinista guerrilla leader who led a revolt that ousted US-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, to step down.

Ortega ruled until 1990, and was then re-elected in 2007. He is now serving his third straight term. His detractors accuse him and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, of running a brutal dictatorship.

In Washington, the Organization of American States convened a session Friday to discuss the crisis in Nicaragua.

And a commission of the US House of Representatives unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution accusing the Ortega government of repression.

"The continued violence and oppression of the Ortega regime is reprehensible," said Paul Cook, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs western hemisphere subcommittee.

Responding to the three-day protest movement, Ortega's government has announced a counter-measure for Friday: a procession from Managua to Masaya, 30 kilometers (20 miles) to the south, in remembrance of the Sandinista revolution.

A lot has changed in Nicaragua since then.

Once a left-wing guerrilla leader who took over after Somoza was ousted by the Sandinista National Liberation Front, Ortega has himself become the focus of public ire.

Former friend, now foe

During his stint in power from 1979 to 1990, Ortega's government had to fight US-backed counter-revolutionaries known as the Contra.

Ortega's annual procession to Masaya commemorates the July 19 popular uprising that ended 43 years of the Somoza family dynasty.

Masaya is now, as it was then, a bastion of opposition resistance to an oppressive regime -- only Ortega, 72, is no longer a friend but the enemy.

News of Ortega's procession has struck fear among the indigenous community of Monimbo, a southern suburb of Masaya, where citizens have built barricades of bricks to keep out government forces.

Last week in two nearby towns at least 14 people were killed after police and pro-government paramilitaries moved in to clear barricades.

"No one's coming in, unless they kill every last one of us," a man, guarding a Monimbo barricade with his face covered by a cap and olive green shirt, told AFP.

Prior to Thursday's five new fatalities, the death toll from the three months of protests stood at 264, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The influential Catholic Church has been mediating between the government and the Civic Alliance, but has itself come under fire from pro-government supporters.

On Monday, masked pro-Ortega supporters invaded a Catholic basilica in the town of Diriamba and harassed bishops.

The Church had proposed advancing elections scheduled for 2021 to 2019 to help ease tensions, but Ortega rejected that idea.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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