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US, Canada impose sanctions on four top Nicaraguan officials

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Washington (AFP)

The United States and Canada on Friday slapped new sanctions on Nicaraguan officials close to President Daniel Ortega, saying they persecuted dissidents and the press, enacted repressive laws, and denied people medical care.

The punishments freeze any assets these officials have in both countries and bar them from the international monetary system.

Nicaragua has been in the throes of anti-government unrest since April 2018. Ortega, who led the Sandinista revolution that ousted a US-backed right-wing dictator in 1979, is now accused of running a harsh, incompetent and corrupt regime himself.

Since the latest troubles began, clashes between demonstrators and security forces have left 325 people dead and prompted 62,000 to flee the impoverished Central American country.

US President Donald Trump signed an executive order last November allowing for sanctions against Nicaraguan officials accused of abuses. Previously, those hit by this order included Ortega's wife and vice-president Rosario Murillo.

The new targets are Orlando Castillo, director of the Nicaraguan Institute of Telecommunications and Mail, Health Minister Sonia Castro, Transport Minister Oscar Mojica and Gustavo Porras, the National Assembly speaker who's seen as Ortega's right hand man.

"The United States is sending an unequivocal message to President Ortega and his inner circle: we stand with the Nicaraguan people on their calls for reform and a return to democracy," US Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker said.

"We will not hesitate to take action against those who perpetuate oppression or prop up the Ortega regime at the expense of the Nicaraguan people," he added.

Said Chrystia Freeland, Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs: "Human rights violations in Nicaragua cannot continue with impunity. The government of Nicaragua must be held accountable for its action and must bring an end to the current crisis through real dialogue with opposition groups."

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