Nicaragua president to meet Catholic bishops for new crisis talks

Nicaraguan opposition members said most of the country's roads were blocked, primarily south of the capital, in a bid to protect the city of Masaya

Managua (AFP) – President Daniel Ortega will meet Nicaragua’s Catholic bishops Thursday to discuss resuming church-mediated talks on ending a political crisis and protest violence that has left more than 120 people dead, the bishops’ conference said.

The announcement came as the Nicaraguan opposition ramped up the pressure against Ortega’s government, blocking streets and roads around the country after seven weeks of protests.

The bishops called off the peace talks after a crackdown last week on a protest led by victims’ mothers left at least 16 more people dead, and said they would not resume for as long as the government failed to end the repression.

But the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference said Wednesday in a statement that after listening to “various sectors” both in Nicaragua and abroad, the bishops had proposed the new meeting and the president had accepted.

“We asked the president… for an audience to discuss the essential and urgent issues of our country, justice and democracy, which peace depends upon, with the goal of evaluating the viability of continuing the dialogue,” the statement said.

The meeting will be held at the government’s convention center in the capital Managua and be followed by a press conference at 7:00 pm (0100 GMT), it said.

Opposition members said Wednesday that most of the country’s roads were blocked, primarily south of the capital, in a bid to protect the city of Masaya, which has been the scene of looting, fires and violence allegedly carried out by police and pro-government riot forces since protests broke out in April.

“The idea is to increase the blockades to defend Masaya, which has become a target of the dictatorship,” former guerrilla leader and dissident Monica Baltodano told AFP.

Local media reports said demonstrators had let children, the elderly, pregnant women and ambulances pass.

The barricades also aim to block the path to the historical tourist city of Granada, which on Tuesday suffered fires and looting amid clashes that left at least one dead.

“We are saddened by the events yesterday in the historic city of Granada, Nicaragua’s cultural heritage center, which was devastated and burned,” said Vice President Rosario Murillo, Ortega’s wife.

According to the government, the blazes did not only affect public buildings and houses belonging to the ruling party, but also a number of businesses.

– ‘He’s killing his people’ –

The protests are led by young people armed with stones and homemade mortars who have faced bullets from pro-government forces, they say.

“That’s our only weapon, mortars… the goal is to try to continue defending ourselves until this is over,” said Alvaro Torres, a mechanic who spent the day making homemade mortar rounds with three neighbors to defend their Masaya neighborhood.

“What Daniel Ortega is doing is unfair… he is killing his own people,” lamented Zeneyda del Rosario Cuesta, the mother of a 17-year-old boy killed Sunday by a flurry of gunfire that his family since claims came from police.

“I don’t want any mother to lose her son (like me), because it hurts, most deeply in my heart,” she said.

On Wednesday, a teenager was shot in the violent Monimbo neighborhood of Masaya.

The opposition Citizens for Freedom party, meanwhile, denounced the destruction and burning of the town hall by pro-government groups in Cua, in the northern department of Jinotega.

On Tuesday, the general assembly of the Organization of American States  approved a declaration “in support with the people of Nicaragua,” which urged Ortega and Nicaraguans alike to engage in constructive dialogue to address the crisis and prevent further violence.