NICARAGUA (OBSERVATORY) – Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega on Sunday abandoned reform of controversial pension systems that led to protests that killed at least 24 people in five days.
“We must restore order, we can not allow chaos, crime and looting,” the president said during a meeting with employers, describing the demonstrators as criminal gangs.
The number of violent demonstrations in protest against the reform of pension systems rose to more than 24, according to a non-governmental organization, while clashes and looting continued for the fifth day in a row.
The unrest, the most serious since Ortega took power 11 years ago, began Wednesday in many cities. Protesters protested against a reform aimed at raising employers’ cuts and pensions while cutting pensions by 5 percent to reduce the $ 76 million social security deficit, in line with a recommendation from the International Monetary Fund.
“We estimate that the death toll has exceeded 20 but we are going to prove that there is a lot of media disinformation,” said Nicaraguan Human Rights Center president Vilma Nunez. “The situation is already serious, and this reduces our ability to verify.”
Neither the authorities nor the police responded to AFP’s question on the confirmation of the toll.
The latest official report said 10 people were killed on Friday, while La Repubblica reported more than 30 dead, but without any source.
The latest wave of clashes between demonstrators and riot police erupted in Managua after a televised speech by President Ortega on Saturday evening. Demonstrators erected street blocks and threw stones at police who responded with tear gas.
During his speech, the president called for dialogue, but stressed that the demonstrations were supported by political groups hostile to his government and financed by unidentified American extremist organizations.
Ortega said his goal was to “sow terror and destabilize the security” and “destroy the image of Nicaragua” after “11 years of peace” as a prelude to “taking power.”
– The looting of commercial centers –
The streets of Managua were strewn with debris on Sunday morning, AFP correspondents said.
Public buildings were looted in the cities of Leon and Massaya near Managua, and cars were burned and looted, according to the government. Soldiers armed with rifles were deployed in front of the administrative buildings.
Local photographer Miguel Angel Gahona died on Saturday in the city of Bluefields after being shot while taking pictures of clashes between demonstrators and police, union sources said.
A 33-year-old policeman was shot dead Saturday in the Polytechnic University district of Managua, according to a formal statement.
The United States on Sunday condemned “violence and excessive force used by police and other people against civilians exercising their constitutional right to freedom of expression and assembly.”
For his part, the European Union said that “violence is unacceptable,” adding that “demonstrations must be peaceful and police forces must intervene with maximum restraint.”
In Rome, Pope Francis called on Nicaraguans to “stop all violence” and “avoid bloodshed free of charge” and resolve the dispute “peacefully and responsibly.”
Opponents of the reform announced on Sunday a new march towards the Polytechnic University, the protest stronghold where hundreds of students were holed up.
This is the most violent demonstration in Nicaragua since Ortega took office.
“We have not seen this for years in Nicaragua,” said former Nicaraguan ambassador to Washington Carlos Tonerman.
He explained that the mere spread of protests “in almost all the cities of the country and all universities, and the violent suppression of the government means that there is public hope not only because of reform but because of how to run the country.”
According to analysts, the Nicaraguan population is fed up with the continued rise in electricity and fuel tariffs, job cuts in the public sector and a reduction in social assistance due to a decline in Venezuela’s assistance for years.