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Nicaragua govt commits to restore rights, disarm paramilitaries: opposition

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Managua (AFP)

The government of Nicaragua pledged to restore protest and press freedom rights while disarming paramilitaries under a deal reached Friday, an opposition delegate to the talks said, after a year-long political upheaval.

The central American country has been in crisis since April last year when a protest initially against a now-scrapped pension reform transformed into calls for the ouster of President Daniel Ortega.

Unrest left more than 300 people dead, 2,000 wounded, and sent 52,000 into exile, human rights groups say.

Ortega, a former leftist Sandinista guerrilla, first came to power through a popular uprising in 1979 but protesters last year accused him and his wife of establishing a dictatorship characterized by nepotism and brutal repression of the opposition and independent media.

The agreement announced Friday is the first since stop-and-start talks between the government, whose delegation is led by Foreign Minister Denis Moncada, and the opposition began on February 27.

Under the deal, the government also commits to disarming the paramilitaries who intervened during protests against Ortega, said an opposition official, Juan Sebastian Chamorro.

The 18-point document says "the state promises to return" to Nicaraguans the civil rights and freedoms they were denied, Chamorro told a press conference in Managua.

The government will "guarantee the rights to gather and protest" provided for by the Constitution and suppressed by the police in September to end the demonstrations against Ortega.

Non-governmental organizations that were dissolved for supporting the protesters are also to be legally reinstated.

According to the agreement, authorities are "to take the necessary measures to ensure the disarmament of those who carry arms without authorization and those who organize themselves into armed groups" outside the framework of the law.

Nicaraguans who have been exiled since the beginning of the unrest can "come back with all guarantees of security," says the agreement.

The government is also to respect freedom of expression and will enable the import of paper and other materials necessary for the written press. Daily newspapers critical of the regime have been deprived of essential supplies by the authorities since September.

Peace talks resumed on March 21 following an agreement by the government to release all detainees within 90 days.

The opposition had suspended its involvement three days earlier after riot police used tear gas against opposition demonstrators and reporters while temporarily detaining more than 100 people seeking the release of political prisoners.

There are differing figures for the number of political detainees.

According to a list compiled by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 647 people are being held as a result of the anti-government protests. The government says it is holding 350 while a committee of relatives maintains 807 people are in custody.

The regional office of the International Committee of the Red Cross on Friday expressed its readiness to facilitate the release process, a joint government-opposition statement said.

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