What Nicaragua demonstrators want

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A young man raises the national flag of Nicaragua during a protest in support of the city of Masaya in Managua, Nicaragua, 04 June 2018. Image copyright EPA
Image caption Demonstrators say they want President Ortega out

More than 120 people have been killed in Nicaragua since 19 April in what has become a popular uprising against the Central American country’s president, Daniel Ortega, and his government. BBC News takes a closer look at how the crisis unfolded.

How did it all start?

The crisis started rather unexpectedly when pro-government gangs violently crushed a small demonstration against reforms to Nicaragua’s pension system announced on 18 April.

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Media captionThe protest against pension changes escalated

These pro-government groups, popularly known as “grupos de choque” (shock forces) had in the past been used to repress anti-government protests and had discouraged many Nicaraguans disgruntled with President Ortega from taking to the streets.

But this time footage of the repression, which was widely shared on social media, caused outrage and triggered more protests which in turn were met with further repression.

Three people, among them a police officer, were killed on 19 April amid attempts by the security forces to suppress the demonstrations. Anger at the government has kept on increasing with rising fatalities.

What’s happened since?

The regional human rights body, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), says at least 127 people have been killed and thousands injured as the protests have grown and attempts to suppress them intensified.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Police have been accused of using excessive force to suppress the protests

The country is littered with roadblocks and barricades. There are almost daily reports of clashes turning lethal – with protesters blaming the security forces and “shock forces” for the violence, while the authorities accuse “specific political groups” of liaising with criminal gangs of spreading chaos.

Human rights groups have warned that Nicaragua is “quickly and dangerously slipping back into some of the darkest times (it) has seen in decades”.

Who are the protesters?

University students are at the forefront of the protests but the movement prides itself on having the support of Nicaraguans from all walks of life and of all political affiliations.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Students have been leading the protests but they have been joined by hundreds of thousands of others

Demonstrations have been held across Nicaragua, including in some strongholds of the governing party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).

The Catholic Church and Nicaragua’s business sector have also joined in calls for early elections.

What do they want?

With hundreds of thousands taking to the streets, the demands have become much broader than the original protests against changes to the pension system, which have already been scrapped by the government.

Protesters are united in their demand for justice for those killed during the demonstrations. They are also demanding deep democratic reforms, with many believing neither can be achieved if President Ortega – who is on his third consecutive term in office – remains in power.

The government says their demands are “a blueprint for a coup”.

What are the allegations against the government?

The IAHCR has repeatedly asked the Nicaraguan government to stop repressing the protest. It has also called for an investigations into “the use of force by para-police forces”.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption More than 130 people have been killed and relatives are demanding justice

In a report published on 21 May, the commission denounced serious human rights violations, including the excessive use of force, illegal and arbitrary detentions, torture, attacks on the press “and other forms of intimidation”.

The commission said it could not rule out the possibility that extrajudicial executions had been carried out.

Campaign group Amnesty International has accused the Nicaraguan authorities of “unleashing a lethal strategy of repression against the protesters”.

“Amnesty International considers that a pattern emerges suggesting that pro-government armed groups, the National Police and the riot police intentionally killed people in a significant number of cases,” its 28 May report said.

Amnesty also said that there were “reasons to believe that these deaths occurred with the knowledge of those at the highest level of the Nicaraguan state, including the president”.

What does the government say?

The government has denied any responsibility, instead blaming the situation on criminal groups and “opposition political groups with specific political agendas”.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Daniel Ortega has been governing Nicaragua since 2007

In a statement released on 31 May, the government suggested the protesters were killing their own in order to destabilize President Ortega’s administration.

“As part of an insane provocation (…), they conspire to denounce non-existent ‘attacks’, then attack and produce victims to blame the institutions in charge of public order,” the statement reads.

Officials have also denied the existence of the “shock groups” or paramilitary forces instead blaming opposition political groups, who they say are conspiring “from the dark, with specific political agendas similar to those used in other countries in the region” for the violence.

What might happen next?

A first attempt at holding a “national dialogue” failed after only three days with the opposition demanding the president step down, and Mr Ortega arguing those demands were well beyond the realm of the talks.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption At the talks, students shouted the names of those killed

There had previously been dramatic scenes as students called out the names of those killed in the protests.

The Catholic Church is trying to revive the dialogue and the Organisation of American States has also offered its mediation but so far the positions of both the government and the protesters seem too far apart to suggest any quick progress.

The government had also said it would follow all the recommendations of the IAHCR, which included “immediately cease repressing demonstrators and arbitrarily detaining those who participate in the protests”, as well as the dismantling of para-police groups, but has so far failed to do either.

The protesters are adamant they will remain on the streets until their demands are met, which suggests the death toll could continue to rise even if the dialogue resumes.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Anti-government protesters have built home-made mortars

The economic cost has already been estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs have already been lost, but the voices calling for a national strike and other forms of pressure are also growing by the day.

With the army so far remaining neutral and President Ortega still enjoying the backing of the police and a core of highly loyal supporters. everything seems to suggest that the situation will further deteriorate, at least in the short run.

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