Published: Mon, April 23, 2018
Sport | By Fredrick Flores

Pope pleads for Nicaragua violence to end

Pope pleads for Nicaragua violence to end

The situation in the country began deteriorating on Wednesday, but became even worse when, on Saturday morning, the Central American nation woke up to find the army deployed in several cities.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has scrapped plans to overhaul the country's social security system.

"We are dealing with more than 20 dead, but we are verifying because there is a lot of misinformation, the situation is really serious and beyond our possibilities to confirm", the center's director Vilma Nunez told AFP.

Human rights groups say at least 26 people have been killed in several days of clashes.

However, a reporter was among those killed on Saturday, gunned down as he was doing a Facebook Live.

The police crackdown on demonstrators and curbs on some media in the past few days have fuelled broader criticism of Ortega, who has gradually tightened his hold on the country's institutions since he returned to power more than 11 years ago.

"This has forced us to put the fight against gangs on our agenda, to fight them so that they don't keep on acting like this, so that they don't keep on killing each other or storming institutions", he said.

Nicabus, an global bus line with links to Costa Rica and Honduras, said it has been forced to suspend services due to the violence. At least two protest marches were planned in Managua on Sunday.

In talks with business leaders yesterday, Ortega said the Nicaraguan Institute for Social Security (INSS) had chose to axe the reform that would have increased employee contributions and reduced benefits in a bid to tamp down on a climbing deficit.

They said there could be no dialogue unless the government "immediately ceases police repression".

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Four independent television outlets were taken off air on Thursday, although only one now remains closed.

President Ortega is a former guerrilla soldier. It increased pension contributions for workers and employers and reduced overall benefits by 5%.

The reform aims to bridge a $76 million deficit faced by the country's social security institute.

The European Union said the violence was "unacceptable". "Protests need to be conducted peacefully, and public security forces must act with maximum restraint".

In earlier remarks Saturday, Ortega seemed to further enrage Nicaraguans by saying the protesters were being politically manipulated; and pointed to the reforms as only being a proposal, and that he was open to negotiations with the business community.

"This has not been seen for years in Nicaragua", Carlos Tunnermann, former Nicaraguan ambassador to the United States, told AFP.

A doctor treating those wounded in the clashes, Eyel Almanza, said in an interview that police officers were resorting to deadly force.

That the protests have occurred "in nearly all the cities of the country, in all the universities" and "have been repressed with violence by the government, means that there is a malaise of the population not only over the reforms, but for the way in which the country has been run", Tunnermann said.

The overhaul was meant to shore up Nicaragua's troubled social security system by both reducing benefits and increasing taxes.

"The Nicaraguan State has to fulfill its worldwide obligations to guarantee that the people can freely exercise their rights of freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful gathering and association", a government spokesman said.

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