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Nicaragua opposition leaves talks until prisoners released

March 11, 2019
FILE - In this Sept. 5, 2018 file photo, the President of Nicaragua Daniel Ortega and his wife and Vice-President Rosario Murillo preside a rally in Managua, Nicaragua. President Ortega said Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, that he will restart talks with his opponents, seven months after the last round of dialogue broke down and the government unleashed a round of arrests. (AP Photo/Alfredo Zuniga, File)

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — The opposition Civic Alliance said Sunday that it will not return to talks with Nicaragua’s government unless President Daniel Ortega’s administration makes goodwill gestures like freeing prisoners.

The coalition of student, business and civic groups said in a statement that it was demanding “the freeing of political prisoners, an end to repression and kidnappings.”

The alliance did not specify whether the demand was for the release of some or all of the estimated 770 people jailed by the Sandinista government following protests that started last April. Since the latest round of talks began in late February, the government has freed about 112 people on a form of conditional release.

The opposition also said it wants an end to the harassment of protesters’ families and “cruel and inhuman treatment” of prisoners.

The government did not immediately respond to the statement. It has rejected previous demands to move up the 2021 elections.

The statement came a day after the government announced its own agenda for the talks, which are aimed at resolving the nearly year-old political standoff.

A Foreign Ministry statement spelled out several points including the strengthening of electoral institutions, justice and reparations, and negotiations about the suspension of international sanctions.

It said the government is “committed to the strengthening of democracy and respect for the constitutional order of Nicaragua,” but pointedly noted that the date for the next general election is “established” for 2021.

During last year’s protests, opponents of Ortega demanded that he leave office and allow an early and fair election. The government cracked down on demonstrations, and at least 325 people died in the unrest, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Of the 770 people the opposition considers political prisoners, the government said Saturday that it would consider freeing both those awaiting judgment and others already convicted. But it added that it would “review their case files, a situation that does not imply impunity.”

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