Nicaragua suspends government peace talks over 'repression'

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Nicaragua's opposition alliance suspended its participation in peace talks with Daniel Ortega's government Monday, March 18, in protest over the regime's "violence and repression" of demonstrators.

Riot police used tear gas against opposition demonstrators and reporters on Saturday while temporarily detaining more than 100 people after they attempted to protest for the release of political prisoners.

The government accused the opposition of staging a "provocation."

The United States condemned Ortega's government over the detentions.

"We call on the Ortega regime to release immediately and unconditionally all arbitrarily detained persons, respect Nicaraguans' freedom of assembly and expression and commit to electoral reforms and to holding free and fair elections early," State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said.

The local Civic Alliance for Justice rights group "energetically condemned" the government crackdown on dissent.

In a statement, it said the government "is holding more than 700 political prisoners simply for defending their citizens' rights."

"It has in its hands the power to free them, (to grant them) the absolute respect of their rights and the end to repression," the group added.

"What happened on Saturday adds to the desperation felt by hundreds of homes that continue to see family members unfairly detained, and to the pain we all feel for the dead and disappeared."

The alliance said that peace talks had so far failed to produce hoped for "legitimate results."

Early elections, currently slated for 2021, is one demand Ortega has steadfastly refused to contemplate. A previous round of peace talks broke down in June over his refusal to countenance such a move.

"Now is the time for swift, just solutions and proof of good faith," said Palladino.

"Nicaraguans deserve to have a government that listens to their voices and respects their human rights and fundamental freedoms."

Brutal crackdown

Talks between the two sides began on February 27 but were suspended for three days last week until the government gave in to an opposition demand to release prisoners.

Around 50 prisoners were released to house arrest Thursday on top of 100 released under the same conditions on the day talks began.

More than 700 people were arrested between April and October last year during protests that also left 325 dead after a brutal crack down by security services.

The government acknowledges 199 deaths but says most of those were members and supporters of the security services.

The protests initially erupted in opposition to a since scrapped pension reform before morphing into general dissatisfaction with Ortega's 12-year rule.

The former left-wing guerrilla leader and his wife Vice President Rosario Murillo have been accused of rights abuses and authoritarian rule.

Two members of the opposition alliance were detained on Saturday, but all those arrested were released a few hours later following mediation from Vatican envoy Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag.

The government said the opposition's participation in a demonstration was "inconceivable, contradictory and unusual," describing it as "a provocation and disturbance of public order."

Managua disputes the opposition's figures for detained political prisoners and has ordered a report by the penitentiary system on the number of such detainees. –