Nicaragua talks face deadline without progress

Managua (AFP) –


Month-long talks aimed at resolving Nicaragua's deadly political crisis were set to pass a Wednesday deadline without progress as the opposition accused the government of lacking political will.

Talks began on February 27 between President Daniel Ortega's government and the opposition but have snagged on disagreements over key issues like the release of political prisoners.

"The political will is non-existent on the part of the government," said Juan Sebastian Chamorro, a representative of the opposition Civic Alliance, before talks resumed Wednesday. Both sides could decide to prolong the negotiations.

A year of political upheaval has left hundreds dead in the Central American country.

The government and opposition delegations reached agreement on Friday on restoring protest and press freedom rights, and on disarming pro-government paramilitaries.

However, police dispersed a demonstration in Managua the following day that called for the release of political prisoners, injuring four people and detaining 10, the opposition said.

The government also rejected an opposition proposal to invite prominent human rights organizations to act as guarantors of any agreement.

The crisis began last April when protests, initially against a now-scrapped pension reform, transformed into calls for Ortega's ouster.

Protesters accused him and his wife of establishing a dictatorship characterized by nepotism and brutal repression of the opposition and independent media.

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

The Friday agreement was the first since stop-start talks began on February 27.

Under the deal, the government is also to respect freedom of expression.

However, the two sides remain divided on the key opposition demand to release prisoners held during a crackdown on the protests.

The government has released some prisoners but the opposition says hundreds remain behind bars.

Ortega agreed last month to release all opposition prisoners within a 90-day period, but Chamorro said Wednesday: "We continue to see imprisonment" of opponents.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) last month put Nicaragua on its human rights black list along with Venezuela and Cuba.