Nicaragua opposition calls strike, government vows prisoner release

Blanca MOREL, Julia RIOS
Opposition activists demonstrated against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega in Managua in April (AFP Photo/INTI OCON)

Managua (AFP) - Nicaragua's opposition on Wednesday called a 24-hour general strike to increase pressure on the government of President Daniel Ortega to release prisoners as agreed in peace talks between the two sides.

The opposition National Unity Blue and White (UNAB) coalition, backed by the business owners union, called for "a peaceful and ethical (strike) action to push for the release of the prisoners and so that all Nicaraguans can be free of this dictatorship," economist Juan Sebastian Chamorro, an opposition representative, told AFP.

The industrial action is due Thursday and expected to cost the country $15-20 million and impact on tax collection, Chamorro said.

The government responded by publishing a "work plan" in which it promised to release "no later than June 18" hundreds of prisoners detained over anti-regime protests that first broke out in April 2018.

That includes the 336 people released from prison since talks between the government and opposition began on February 27, only to be held under house arrest since.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights called on Nicaraguan authorities to protect the lives of 17 prominent detainees.

In March, the government agreed to release all opposition prisoners within 90 days. Detractors however say there is little evidence of the regime sticking to its commitment.

Nicaragua's crisis began on April 18, 2018 when a protest, initially against a since scrapped pension reform, ballooned into a wider demonstration against Ortega's government.

Over the following four months, at least 325 people were killed in clashes between opposition supporters and security forces, with hundreds of people jailed and more than 60,000 exiled.

Talks between the government and opposition alliances have stalled several times, notably due to Ortega's refusal to countenance a key demand that he resign and bring forward elections slated for 2021.

The opposition accuses the 73-year-old former left-wing guerrilla leader, who first came to power in 1979 following the fall of the US-backed Somoza family dictatorship, of rights abuses and authoritarian leadership.

The government agreed to the latest round of talks as the country faced economic crisis -- it has a $315 million deficit -- and potential international sanctions.