Nicaragua releases more prisoners after opposition demand


Managua (AFP)

Nicaragua on Friday released 50 prisoners held for taking part in anti-government protests, authorities said, giving a fresh impetus to peace talks on ending the country's long running political crisis.

More than 700 people were detained during a deadly crackdown on rallies that began last April and quickly grew into broad opposition to President Daniel Ortega iron-fisted rule.

The crackdown left at least 325 people dead between April and October, while thousands of Nicaraguans fled the unrest.

The interior ministry said in a statement that the prisoners had been released on house arrest. A list of those released did not contain any key opposition figures.

The detainees were driven away from La Modelo maximum security prison, near Managua, out of the sight of waiting relatives.

The opposition alliance, which is demanding Ortega hold early elections, had made a return to stalled peace talks with Ortega's leftist government on the condition that prisoners were released.

The government returned to negotiations after several months, facing increasing international pressure and an economic crisis.

Around 100 prisoners were been freed on February 27 at the start of the fresh talks.

But the negotiations were suspended for several days over opposition demands for further releases. They resumed on Thursday after the government offered fresh assurances.

Opposition delegate Azahalea Solis branded the releases "insufficient," and refused to attend talks until all political prisoners were free.

- 'Disappointed' -

Outside the prison, the family of detainee Wilfredo Brenes -- a lawyer by profession -- were among those left disappointed after traveling north to the capital from Masaya.

"We were all hopeful that my brother was going to be released," said his sister, Maria. "I am disappointed to see how this government makes fun of the population. It is annoying to see that we are powerless, watching our rights continue to be trampled."

Elsewhere, the Inter-American Human Right Commission hailed the releases -- but called upon the government to "clarify the status" of those released and "free all political prisoners."

Meanwhile, opposition members called for protests in the capital Managua on Saturday to reiterate that demand -- but the police announced they would not authorize such a demonstration.

The opposition accuses Ortega, a 73-year-old former Sandinista rebel leader, of running a corrupt, cruel and incompetent leftist dictatorship in the poor Central American country.