Government says ready to continue Nicaragua talks

Managua (AFP) –


The government of President Daniel Ortega said Monday it was ready to continue talks with the opposition on resolving Nicaragua's deadly political crisis.

The Central American country has been gripped by a year of political crisis since months of street protests erupted last April leaving more than 325 people dead, most of them opposition demonstrators.

Month-long talks between the government and the opposition Civic Alliance coalition broke up last week without agreement on political reform in the crisis-torn country.

But Ortega's leftist government said in a statement its "will and commitment to continue working towards national understanding" was unchanged.

It said it was not responsible for any "deadlock or delay" in the talks, which broke up last Wednesday.

More than 600 opposition supporters have been jailed and thousands of Nicaraguans fled into exile.

Ortega, a 73-year-old former guerrilla leader, has refused to step down to facilitate early elections in 2019 -- a key opposition demand.

Threatened by United States and European Union sanctions, the government on March 20 pledged to release all political prisoners within 90 days in an operation to be overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

So far only about 200 prisoners have been released. The opposition says more than 800 people were jailed during a crackdown on protests, but the government has put the number at less than 300.

Opposition politicians said Saturday that police refused to allow an opposition march in the capital Managua, despite a recent pledge by Ortega to restore protest rights and press freedoms.