Mon, Jul 30, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Thousands march to back bishops, oppose Ortega

AFP, MANAGUA

Thousands of people on Saturday marched through the Nicaraguan capital of Managua in a show of support for the country’s bishops, whom Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has accused of aiding an attempted “coup” against him.

The rally brought together Catholics, evangelicals and non-Christians under images of the Virgin Mary and Nicaraguan flags, and cries of “freedom” and “Bishop, buddy, the people are with you.”

It was another display of popular opposition to Ortega, who has become reviled by large sections of Nicaragua’s population of 6 million for a three-month crackdown on anti-government protests in which more than 300 people have been killed.

The president imposed a period of relative calm on the country after police and loyalist paramilitaries firing weapons crushed opposition hubs in Managua and the nearby city of Masaya this month.

One of the raids targeted youths taking shelter in a church in the capital, killing two.

After those operations, Ortega this week declared “the turmoil is over.”

He also accused the nation’s bishops, who have been trying to bring about a peaceful solution by mediating talks between the government and the opposition, of helping those challenging him, whom he called “coup-mongers” and “terrorists.”

“Given this supremely critical situation, [the church] has, yesterday, today and forever, given life and voice to those who have no voice,” said Silvio Fonseca, a priest taking part in Saturday’s march.

An evangelical, Henry Aguilar, 55, told reporters that non-Catholic churches had joined the “pilgrimage” demonstration in support of the bishops, “because we are Nicaraguans, and the same system attacking them is also attacking us.”

Daily protests continue against Ortega, demanding that he step down and early elections be held. While the violence has diminished, at least four deaths have been reported since the security blitzes.

Rights groups say state-sponsored persecution of people suspected of taking part in the protests, or of helping them, has been stepped up, forcing thousands to flee over the southern border into Costa Rica.

The bishops, through their Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua, support elections being brought forward from 2021 to next year. The US and the Organization of American States back that call, with Washington saying there could be further sanctions on Nicaragua if Ortega does not yield to the demand.

However, Ortega, 72, has rejected early polls, saying they would only increase insecurity.

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