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Nicaragua releases anti-Ortega protest leaders

Hanssel Vasquez (L) poses with his mother in Managua after he was among 50 opposition prisoners released under a controversial new law granting amnesty to protesters and police involved in last year's deadly uprising against President Daniel Ortega
Hanssel Vasquez (L) poses with his mother in Managua after he was among 50 opposition prisoners released under a controversial new law granting amnesty to protesters and police involved in last year's deadly uprising against President Daniel Ortega AFP
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Managua (AFP)

The leaders of months of protests last year against President Daniel Ortega were released Tuesday under a controversial new amnesty law approved at the weekend, opposition sources said.

Video uploaded on social media showed several leaders being taken from prison aboard an International Red Cross minibus, waving the Nicaraguan flag and shouting "justice."

Many were greeted by family members waiting outside the prison.

The Central American country plunged into crisis in April 2018 after widespread opposition protests broke out, and a brutal crackdown over the next four months by Ortega's troops left 325 dead, 800 in prison and thousands in exile.

Lawmakers last weekend passed a law that grants amnesty to hundreds of protesters but also the police involved in the deadly crackdown.

Opposition economist Juan Sebastian Chamorro said 56 prisoners were freed on Tuesday, following a batch of 50 released the day before.

"It is very exciting, we are very happy, we hope that there will never again be political prisoners in Nicaragua," said Chamorro.

Among those released were peasant activists Medardo Mairena and Pedro Mena, a Nicaraguan-Belgian student Amaya Coppens, and journalists Lucia Pineda and Miguel Mora.

"We will continue reporting," said Pineda, who also holds Costa Rican nationality.

The government made no comment on the releases.

Relatives and neighbors rejoiced when the prisoners were brought to their homes.

"I greet with immense joy the news that so many Nicaraguans are out of prison that should never have been there," one of the country's leading clerics, Managua auxiliary bishop Silvio Baez, said on Twitter.

The powerful Catholic Church has brokered several rounds of peace talks between Ortega and opposition groups.

But talks have stalled, notably due to Ortega's rejection of a key demand that he resign and bring forward elections slated for 2021.

The government in February began the staggered release of prisoners into house arrest ahead of talks with the opposition.

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