Ortega rules out early elections, offers to release political prisoners


Managua (AFP)

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega ruled out a key opposition demand to bring forward elections during peace talks on Saturday aimed at resolving a 10-month long political crisis.

However, he did offer to release political prisoners and undertake reforms.

The government said in a statement it was "committed to the strengthening of democracy, respect for constitutional order, and taking into consideration that presidential and legislative elections have been established for 2021."

The opposition had wanted those brought forward to this year.

The government agenda, finally published after eight days of talks, also offers to strengthen freedoms and rights, liberate political prisoners awaiting trial, revise laws to eliminate "impunity" and asks the international community not to apply sanctions.

Ortega, his wife Vice President Rosario Murillo and other top regime officials are already subject to US sanctions for rights abuses.

The government's move comes a day after the opposition announced it was reconsidering whether to continue talks after the country's bishops, slated to be mediators, declined to participate in the process.

During eight days of talks, the government had refused to share its goals and shielded itself with a confidentiality pact that banned the parties from sharing details of the discussions with the press.

That secrecy created suspicions the government was not sincere in its desire to find a political solution.

The crisis began in April 2018, sparking months of protests across the Central American country against Ortega's leftist government.

More than 300 people were killed in a brutal crackdown on the opposition and independent media. Hundreds of opposition figures were thrown in jail and more than 50,000 Nicaraguans fled the country.

The talks began on February 27 as the government found itself facing an economic crisis and a $315 million deficit, while struggling due to sanctions without funding and loans that would usually come in from multilateral organizations.