Nicaragua's business union blasts government over talks

Managua (AFP) –


The repression of protesters and suppression of free press prove Daniel Ortega's government "lacks the political will" to find a solution to Nicaragua's crisis, the business leaders union said Tuesday.

Nicaragua's opposition alliance, which includes the COSEP union of business leaders, suspended peace talks with the Ortega regime Monday in protest over the "violence and repression" of demonstrators.

Talks resumed in the capital Managua on Tuesday.

Riot police had used tear gas to stop an opposition protest on Saturday while temporarily detaining 100 people, including two opposition leaders.

COSEP said the government crackdown proved the regime doesn't want "to create the basic conditions for the national dialogue to show its viability and to reply to the people's legitimate demands."

The union is part of the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy (ACJD) that entered into peace talks with the government at the end of last month.

ACJD suspended the talks for three days last week until the government gave in to an opposition demand to release prisoners.

And on Monday, it "energetically condemned" the government's weekend crackdown on dissent.

In a statement, it said the government "is holding more than 700 political prisoners simply for defending their citizens' rights."

More than 700 people were arrested between April and October last year during protests that also left 325 dead after a brutal crackdown by security services.

Around 50 prisoners were sent from prison to house arrest on Thursday as a government gesture to allow the talks to resume, while another 100 followed suit on the day talks began in February.

COSEP said Saturday's crackdown demonstrated that "we're faced with a police state that doesn't allow the expression of the fundamental constitutional rights of all Nicaraguans."

It said the police acted in "a disproportionate manner with excessive violence."

The two sides will try to end the impasse with the help of Vatican envoy Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag and Organization of American States special envoy Luis Angel Rosadilla, opposition lawmaker Jose Pallais told AFP.

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro wrote on Twitter that "to continue in good faith, in Nicaragua all political prisoners... must be freed."

Nicaragua has been mired in political crisis since April last year, when a protest initially against a now-scrapped pension reform snowballed into opposition to Ortega's rule.

The former left-wing guerrilla leader has been in power for more than 11 years but alongside his wife Vice President Rosario Murillo, he's been accused of ruling with an iron fist and rights abuses.