, Managua, Nicaragua, May 13 – Nicaragua’s army on Saturday called for an end to violence in the country and distanced itself from President Daniel Ortega, saying it was not repressing anyone for taking part in anti-government protests.
Unrest against the president exploded in mid-April and has been fueled by a brutal response from police.
The death toll is now at least 51.
“We are the same uniformed people, working for their own benefit and, as a consequence, we call for stopping the violence and actions that destabilize us,” an army statement said, expressing solidarity with the families of those who have died in the protests.
“We have no reason to repress anyone” for anti-government demonstrations, army spokesman Manuel Guevara said earlier.
“We think that dialogue is the answer,” he stressed, adding that the military rejects what he sees as an effort to misconstrue military actions as repression on behalf of the Ortega government.
Troops are required to protect strategic locations, national assets and national parks, for example.
Initially triggered by reforms to cut spending on Nicaragua’s deficit-laden social security system — later abandoned by Ortega — the protests swelled to include other grudges against the president who is widely seen as autocratic and distant.
Ortega, 73, is a former rebel leader who first ruled after his Sandinista revolutionaries chased the corrupt dynasty of dictator Anastasio Somoza from power in 1979.
Now, Ortega is “equal to Somoza. The difference is that Somoza faced an armed insurrection (and) Ortega is acting mercilessly against an unarmed civil insurrection,” said Enrique Saenz, a lawyer and economist.
There were fresh accusations on Saturday of repression by the security forces during clashes with demonstrators that began Friday night in Masaya city, southeast of the capital Managua.
Masaya is “a battlefield,” Edwin Roman, a priest, told AFP.
A rights group and a doctor reported dozens injured in that city, but protests also continued elsewhere including in Managua.
“We condemn the repression that the people of Masaya are living in,” said the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), which accused police of “shooting against the people.”
The protests are the worst Ortega has faced in the past 11 years since he returned to power after a stint in opposition.
Ortega has said he is willing to hold talks to calm the situation but has made few moves to follow through.