Managua (AFP) – Armed anti-riot police and pro-government paramilitary attacked barricades manned by anti-government protesters in eastern Managua, plunging city neighborhoods in violence and chaos in an attempt to stamp out a two-month-old uprising against the government of President Daniel Ortega.
Cracks of gun fire resounded through the streets of the Nicaraguan capital as television footage showed turbulent scenes of armed security forces on foot and in trucks chasing young men away from street barricades.
Activists attempted to push them back by throwing rocks and setting off homemade mortars.
Silvio Jose Baez, an auxiliary bishop of Managua, urged residents to stay inside their homes.
“It is very dangerous because of the presence of violent gangs,” he wrote on Twitter. “Don’t risk life in vain.”
Since the protests began April 18, 139 people have been killed in clashes with security forces and armed gangs loyal to President Daniel Ortega, according to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights.
The fresh street battles come amid stalled efforts by the country’s Roman Catholic bishops to revive negotiations aimed at calming the political crisis.
Ortega, a leftist who has held the presidency since 2007, has remained silent since last Thursday when he met with the bishops to discuss the prospect of talks.
Following that closed-door meeting Ortega requested a “period of reflection” to mull over the bishops’ mediation proposal.
Government security forces swept into seven neighborhoods, forcefully clearing barricades on the main Juan Pablo II avenue that connects the capital’s north and south, activists said.
Pro-Ortega armed civilians in hoods meanwhile broke down barricades that residents had built in adjacent streets to “protect” themselves from roving gangs, dissident Monica Baltodano, a former guerrilla fighter during the country’s Sandinista uprising, told AFP.
The barricades — which are guarded by mostly young men wielding slingshots and mortars — have snarled traffic throughout Nicaragua, crippling transportation and commerce in more than half of the country’s departments.
Many Nicaraguans are demanding the ouster of Ortega, who first came to power in 1979 at the head of a communist junta installed by Sandinista rebels.
He has held power for the better part of four decades, and is now serving a third consecutive term as president due to end in 2022.