Fifteen die in ‘Wednesday massacre’ in Nicaragua

Jun 2, 2018

Protesters carry names of victims during Wednesday march in Managua.

By Frances Robles

At least 15 people were killed during protests this week in Nicaragua, raising the death toll of the nation’s six-week political uprising to more than 100, human rights activists said Thursday.

The latest killings took place at a march on Wednesday attended by hundreds of thousands of people on Nicaragua’s Mother’s Day. It was held to honor the mothers of students killed at previous rallies.

Body of shooting victim is carried away.

A leading Roman Catholic bishop called it a “massacre,” and the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua, which had been mediating a national dialogue between the opposition and the government, abruptly ended the peace talks.

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“How can you dialogue with your assassins?” said Gonzalo Carrión, a lawyer at the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, who said the police had opened fire on protesters. “This was the biggest rally yet. It was a homage to mothers who lost their sons at rallies in April and May, and they wound up adding 15 more mothers to that list.”

The Nicaraguan Army said at least six police officers had been shot and wounded at the demonstration.

The protest on Wednesday capped six weeks of what has been described as a national rebellion against the government of President Daniel Ortega. The government has denied responsibility for any of the deaths and insists that it is the victim of a vast conspiracy.

The increasing violence underscores what little progress has been made to resolve the conflict since demonstrations began in April. Fake news reports intended to incite the public continue to circulate; government and opposition websites have been hacked; and dozens of roadblocks around the nation have paralyzed traffic.

The situation in Nicaragua appears increasingly uncertain.

Protesters called for more rallies and a national strike. In response, the leader of the National Assembly was seen in a widely circulated video telling union workers to “take back the streets” in support of the president. Many interpreted that as a call to arms against the protesters. The shootings by the police Wednesday prompted outrage.
“The demonstration was peaceful,” said Juan Sebastián Chamorro, a negotiator on the national dialogue committee. “There were children there. It was a peaceful manifestation that ended up with people shot in the head and killed deliberately by snipers.”
Guillermina Zapata, 63, said protesters had told her that the bullet that hit her son, Francisco Javier Reyes Zapata, 34, came from a sharpshooter perched on the top of the national baseball stadium. Mr. Reyes was struck in the eye and died, she said.
“They have to go,” Ms. Zapata said of the president and his wife, Rosario Murillo, who is also the vice president. “He is a murderer, and a murderer cannot continue to govern Nicaragua. They have to leave. I believe that dialogue is no longer an option. That’s sitting down to talk with the devil, who is killing the people.”
As the peace talks started two weeks ago, student protesters, in a televised spectacle, interrupted, chanting the names of the dead.
The talks stalled when the government insisted that roadblocks put up by demonstrators be taken down, which committee members took as a stalling tactic, Mr. Chamorro said.
The crisis began on April 19 in Managua, the capital, when the government made changes to the social security system that would have raised workers’ contributions and cut retirees’ pensions. Students at universities in the capital picketed on their campuses, and were met by mobs of government supporters who attacked them.

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Credit: The New York Times, www.nytimes.com

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