Armed riot police and pro-government paramilitaries on Monday attacked barricades manned by anti-government activists in the Nicaraguan capital, plunging neighborhoods into violence and chaos in an attempt to stamp out a two-month-old uprising against President Daniel Ortega.
The government offensive launched overnight into the early morning comes as Ortega enters his fifth day of silence regarding the Roman Catholic Church’s proposal to restart talks aimed at calming the political crisis.
Cracks of gun fire resounded through the streets of Managua as television footage showed turbulent scenes of armed security forces on foot and in trucks chasing young men away from street barricades.
Activists attempted to push them back by throwing rocks and setting off homemade mortars.
The violence appeared to have cooled by mid-afternoon, a few hours after Silvio Jose Baez, an auxiliary bishop of Managua, had urged residents to stay inside their homes.
“It is very dangerous because of the presence of violent gangs,” he wrote on Twitter. “Don’t risk life in vain.”
The protests that began April 18 over controversial pension reforms have exploded into a mass effort to pressure the president’s exit.
At least 139 people have been killed in clashes with security forces and armed gangs loyal to Ortega, according to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), which also said more than 1,000 had been injured.
Government security forces early Monday swept into seven neighborhoods, forcefully clearing barricades on the main Juan Pablo II avenue that connects the capital’s north and south, activists said.
Hooded pro-Ortega armed civilians meanwhile broke down barricades that residents had built in adjacent streets to “protect” themselves from roving gangs.
‘Severe democratic crisis’
The blockades — which are guarded by mostly young men wielding slingshots and mortars — are found on nearly 70 percent of roads, crippling transportation and commerce in more than half of the country’s departments.
Similar attacks in the city of Sebaco, 90 kilometers north of Managua, left one dead on Sunday, according to the CENIDH.
Police meanwhile said that 15 hooded individuals attacked a police outpost in Mulukuku municipality in the Caribbean north of the country, killing two officers and one gang member. One police officer was also kidnapped. AFP