Four police officers and a protester died in Nicaragua on Thursday, the latest of about 270 fatalities in months of demonstrations against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.
The bloodshed prompted three days of nationwide protests against the government of the poor Central American country, including a general strike yesterday and a car caravan today through flash-point areas of the capital, Managua.
The deaths occurred in the southeastern town of Morrito as marching protesters, some of them armed, came under attack from police and paramilitaries and responded with gunfire, said Francisca Ramirez, head of the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, an opposition group.
Police confirmed the death toll, but blamed the violence on “terrorist groups” that pretended to be carrying out a peaceful march and opened fire on a police station.
Protesters also abducted nine police officers and attacked the town hall, the police said in a statement.
Morrito is a town of 6,000 that is home to many farmers who own guns to protect their land.
In Managua, thousands of people waving blue-and-white Nicaraguan flags on Thursday marched along downtown avenues in a violence-free procession, many chanting: “He must go,” referring to Ortega.
Carolina Aguilar, 52, accused the Ortega government of killing protesters with impunity.
“We cannot live with a murderer, with a scorpion that kills us day after day. I would give my life for this end,” she said.
The protests erupted in Nicaragua on April 18, initially against now-scrapped pension reforms.
However, they have since boiled over into demands for Ortega, the Sandinista guerrilla leader who led a revolt that ousted US-backed then-Nicaraguan president Anastasio Somoza in 1979, to step down.
Ortega ruled until 1990 and was then re-elected in 2007. He is now serving his third straight term of this presidency.
His detractors have accused him and his wife, Nicaraguan Vice President Rosario Murillo, of running a brutal dictatorship.
In Washington, the Organization of American States yesterday convened a session to discuss the crisis in Nicaragua.
Meanwhile, a US House of Representatives panel unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution accusing the Ortega government of repression.
“The continued violence and oppression of the Ortega regime is reprehensible,” House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere Chairman Paul Cook said.
Responding to the three-day protest movement, Ortega’s government announced a countermeasure: A procession yesterday from Managua to Masaya, 30km to the south, in remembrance of the Sandinista revolution.
Once a left-wing guerrilla leader who took over after Somoza was ousted by the Sandinista National Liberation Front, Ortega has himself become the focus of public ire.
During his stint in power from 1979 to 1990, Ortega’s government had to fight US-backed counterrevolutionaries known as the Contras.
Prior to Thursday’s five fatalities, the death toll from the three months of protests stood at 264, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.