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Nicaragua unrest: What you should know

At least 280 people have died during a government crackdown on students, calling for the president's resignation.

Masaya, Nicaragua

At least 280 people have died and 2,000 have been injured in Nicaragua since unrest began three months ago, according to the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH).

People have taken to the streets demanding President Daniel Ortega stand down,  in the bloodiest protests in Nicaragua since the country's civil war ended in 1990.

The unrest began in mid-April, when Ortega, a former Marxist rebel leader, proposed reducing pension benefits to ease budgetary pressures.

Though the plan was later dropped, it provoked large protests and calls for Ortega to step down over his government crackdown on demonstrators. 

Here is what we know so far:  

What triggered the protests?

  • Demonstrations began on April 16, led by university students in Mangua after the government failed to handle forest fires in one of the most protected areas of the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve.
  • Two days later, the government introduced plans to cut pensions and social security, including decreasing pension payments by five percent and increasing worker social contributions by 0.75 percent. The change also increased employer contributions by 3.5 percent. 
  • "I'm [protesting] because I'm indignant that my grandparents are going to receive five percent less of their already anemic pension, after having worked for 44 years, that's not money they are being lent, that's money they have paid in, so it bothers me," Pablo Sanchez a protester saidduring the early stages of the protests. 
  • Sandinista Youth, a group aligned with Daniel Ortega's Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), launched counterprotests in support of the reforms.
  • The government cracked down on the protests, and several people were killed, including journalist Angel Gahona, who was shot dead while reporting on the protests live on Facebook.
  • The first fatalities were reported on Thursday, April 19 when two civilians and a police officer were killed in clashes. The same day, a number of television outlets were reportedly taken off the air.
  • "These are acts of repression and unexplainable censorship by the government, the government has been very secretive in releasing information to the public, but this censorship is at a new level," Miguel Mora, Director of 100% news, said at the time. 

Ortega scraps pension cuts

  • The government maintained that the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute (INSS) was very close to insolvency and that if changes were not made, it would end without liquid assets by 2019. 
  • Ortega, the last of the Latin American revolutionaries still in office, called for renewed dialogue with the private sector over the social security reform and welcomed modifications to implement the reforms "in a better way".
  • But in a televised meeting, aired on April 22, President Ortega scraped the controversial reforms. In the meeting, Ortega denounced protesters for acting like "gangs killing each other". 
  • "We must re-establish order, we will not allow chaos, crime and looting to reign," he said.

Demands for Ortega's resignation

  • Due to the heavy-handed tactics used by the government to curb the demonstrations, tens of thousands of people continued to protest, demanding Ortega's resignation. 
  • "We are fighting not only for the INSS, we are fighting for all those years of pillaging of the people by the Sandinista regime," an engineering student in Managua who identified himself as Cristofer told AFP news agency during the protests. 
  • Ortega's government has faced condemnation in recent years over plans to build an inter-oceanic canal, for hobbling political rivals, and consolidating power when his wife, Rosario Murillo, was elected vice president in 2016. 
  • Ortega has been elected three consecutive times since 2007 after serving a first presidential term in the 1980s.

Reactions

  • The UN has called for access to investigate the deaths and has accused the government of using excessive force. 
  • On May 29, Amnesty International released a report accusing the government of working with pro-government armed groups to suppress the protests. It also said authorities "adopted a strategy of repression, characterised by excessive use of force and extrajudicial executions". 
  • Nicaragua's Catholic church was serving as a mediator between the government and the protesters, calling for a reduction of hostilities and dialogue and issuing an ultimatum to the government to push for international oversight. Talks between the government and opposition broke down in mid-May.
  • On May 31, the church issued a statement saying it would not resume talks while the Nicaraguan people "continue to be repressed and murdered". 
  • On June 15, Ortega and civic leaders agreed to cease hostilities, remove roadblocks and allow for a foreign inquiry into the country's bloodiest confrontations since a civil war ended in 1990. Despite the apparent truce, violence broke out a day later and at least eight people were killed. 
  • The Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have also said they would investigate the unrest.
  • Ortega told supporters that Nicaragua "is not private property" in response to the demand, according to local newspaper La Prensa. He also ruled out early elections last month.
  • In July, the OAS held two emergency meetings to discuss the ongoing crisis. Luis Almagro, the secretary-general of the organisation, proposed early presidential elections. 
  • "We proposed from the beginning a fundamental tool to stop the violence, the conduct of early elections in the framework of a clean and transparent electoral process," Almagro said. 
  • At least 10 people, including a young girl, were killed on July 15 after pro-government forces launched an operation in and around the city of Masaya, a rights group said. 
  • The violence came a day after 200 university students were freed from a besieged church in Managua after a 16-hour ordeal in which two were killed. 
  • Bishop Silvio Jose Baez tweeted: 

  • On July 17, the UN human rights office asked the Nicaraguan government to open all prisons to monitors and called for a halt to the violence. 
  • UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville asked the Nicaraguan government to provide information on two activists who have been missing since they were detained at the airport last week. At a press briefing, he said the violence in the Central American country had been "overwhelmingly perpetrated" by the Nicaraguan state and loyal armed groups. 
  • Colville's comments came a day after UN Chief Antonio Guterres called for an "immediate halt" to violence. "It's evident that there is a shocking number of deaths and a lethal use of force by entities tied to the state that is unacceptable," Guterres said at a news conference in neighbouring Costa Rica. 

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