Nicaragua human chain calls for Ortega ouster

Managua: Thousands of Nicaraguans formed a human chain on Wednesday to demand the departure of President Daniel Ortega and an end to months of violence that has left at least 220 people dead.
Waving blue and white Nicaraguan flags, the demonstrators lined one of the main roads leading from the capital Managua in the latest high-profile protest against the 72-year-old president.
“The people have risen up and we are telling Comandante Ortega to leave, to resign, the people are not afraid of him,” said a 27-year-old protester with a flag in his hand.
Many of the protesters were employees of companies located next to the highway.
Earlier, Ortega’s younger brother, former army chief Humberto Ortega, called for early elections and the dismantling of violent pro-government paramilitary groups to help resolve 2.5 months of unrest.
Ortega made public his proposals contained in a letter to a Catholic Church-mediated national dialogue between government and opposition, meeting in a bid to end anti-Ortega protests and government repression that have wracked the Central American country since April 18.
The retired general, who has often taken a critical view of his brother’s administration, proposed bringing forward elections scheduled for 2021 to 2019 — a key opposition demand he called a “peaceful solution to the tragic crisis we are suffering.” By holding early elections, the president would “say yes to peace,” which will help the economy recover, as well as regenerate investment and tourism, said the younger Ortega.
He also urged the government to dismantle the paramilitary groups and called on the opposition to tear down barricades used to seal off parts of cities from the police, “no matter how righteous your reasons may be.”
The 72-year-old president has remained silent on an earlier proposal by the influential Catholic hierarchy to bring forward the elections to March next year. There were no signs of a letup in the violence. Truckloads of police and pro-government gunmen rolled into a town in northern Nicaragua on Tuesday, clearing an opposition roadblock in clashes that left one person reported dead.
Foreign Minister Denis Moncada told the talks that the government is willing to listen to the opposition, but demanded that the barricades be lifted first.
The government incursion took place in La Trinidad, 125 kilometres north of the capital Managua. State media said a riot police officer died. Several demonstrators were wounded, human rights activists said. “There’s a hunt for demonstrators going on since yesterday in La Trinidad by police and paramilitaries,” Meyling Gutierrez of the Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights said by telephone. — AFP