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Tens of thousands march for peace, justice in Nicaragua

April 29, 2018

A caravan carrying peasants from Northern Nicaragua arrive into Managua to participate in a massive march called by the Catholic Church as a day of prayer, in Managua, Nicaragua, Saturday, April 28, 2018. After the largest protests Nicaragua has seen in at least 40 years the government of President Daniel Ortega has been left weakened but still in control of all the levers of government and has a monopoly on the use of force. (AP Photo/Alfredo Zuniga)

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans joined a march for “Peace and Justice” called by the Catholic Church on Saturday, the second massive demonstration in less than a week following a wave of deadly protests against social security reforms.

Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes told demonstrators in the capital that Nicaragua’s church would give President Daniel Ortega’s government one month to reach agreements that satisfy society’s demands following last week’s convulsion of protests and looting. Human rights groups say dozens of people were killed or went missing during the protests when police and Sandinista youth groups violently repressed demonstrators.

Ortega withdrew the social security overhaul that sparked the protests last Sunday and agreed to meet with different sectors of society in a national dialogue mediated by the church. And on Friday, National Assembly president Gustavo Porras announced the creation of a truth commission to look into the deaths and violence during the clashes.

“The government has just one month to come through. If it doesn’t, the people will be told that it couldn’t,” Brenes said while some demonstrators chanted “Justice!”

Nicaragua’s Permanent Commission on Human Rights said the social convulsion left at least 63 people dead, 15 missing and more than 160 wounded by gunfire. The government has not confirmed or denied the casualty figures.

The rescinded reforms would have increased contributions and reduced pensions. But the protests, which have been largely led by university students, had expanded beyond the original opposition to the social security overhaul to include broader anti-government grievances.

Saturday’s march called by the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua brought in students, representatives of the private sector and opponents of the construction of an interoceanic canal.

Francisca Ramirez, a leader of the anti-canal movement, said “it is time for Daniel Ortega to understand that he cannot continue doing whatever he wants with this country.”

“It has been enough. We want peace but with justice for the murders,” Ramirez added.

Similar demonstrations were held Saturday in other cities such as Matagalpa and Leon.

“I came because the young people who died deserve a tribute, that we march for the peace in the country, for justice and for the return of the democracy that has been kidnapped by this government,” said Marlene Alvarez, 26, who works in a laboratory in the capital.

On Monday, Nicaragua’s private business sector organized a march calling social peace and an end to repression that drew tens of thousands of participants, marking the largest demonstration seen against Ortega’s government.

The former guerrilla fighter began his third five-year term in office last year. His wife, Rosario Murillo, is Nicaragua’s vice president.

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