'Hear Nicaragua's cry': Ortega's opponents urge Europe to act


Paris (AFP)

Visiting Nicaraguan opposition leaders have called on Europe to impose sanctions on the government of President Daniel Ortega following months of human rights' violations and crackdowns on public protests.

Protests broke out 11 months ago, initially against a pension reform before morphing into general opposition to Ortega's iron rule, prompting a brutal security crackdown that has claimed more than 300 lives and seen over 700 people arrested.

Peace talks with Ortega's government began late last month but Nicaragua's opposition alliance suspended its participation on Monday in protest over a weekend crackdown on demonstrators.

"We need the world to hear Nicaragua's cry, we need them to help us find a solution as quickly as possible," Francisca Ramirez, one of the opposition alliance leaders told AFP in Paris on Monday.

Ramirez, who is also a farmer, environmental lawyer Monica Lopez Baltodano and feminist leader Maria Teresa Blandon, are currently on a 40-day tour of Europe, with stops in Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland, to rally support for the opposition.

"What happened on Saturday shows that Daniel Ortega has no intention of negotiating in good faith," said Ramirez, denouncing the government's "excessive use of force."

Talks began on February 27 but have stumbled over the fate of more than 700 people arrested between last April and October during protests that claimed 325 lives.

"We can't return to the negotiating table without resolving the issues of prisoners and the right to free assembly," Blandon said.

"There are red lines that we cannot cross."

- 'Moved too slowly' -

The political crisis in Nicaragua began last April when protests erupted over social security reforms, leading to the deaths of nearly 30 people.

The government subsequently outlawed political demonstrations, and Ortega has repeatedly rejected calls for early elections, which are not due to be held until 2021.

Although the US government has condemned the violence and rights violations, opposition leaders say Europe needs to put more pressure on Ortega's government.

The EU "has moved too slowly," Blandon said, urging it to take "a clear position."

The European Parliament last week urged EU governments to impose sanctions on Nicaragua, "and now we trust that European governments will take action," she added.

"If the international community allows this to happen, there will be more situations like the one in Nicaragua," she warned.

The wave of dissent in Nicaragua has been the most violent since the end of three decades of revolutionary turmoil in 1990.

Ortega, who served as the leader of the revolution's victorious Sandinista National Liberation Front, was re-elected in 2006 with just 38 percent of the vote.

The former leftwing guerrilla leader and his wife Rosario Murillo, who serves as vice president, have increasingly been accused of rights abuses and authoritarian rule.