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Nicaragua's president ditches pension cuts after dozens killed in nationwide protests

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Nicaragua's president ditches pension cuts after dozens killed in nationwide protests

Funerals underway for those killed in anti-government protests
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Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has cancelled a planned overhaul of the welfare system that sparked days of deadly protests. It's been reagrded as a bid to end the biggest crisis of his adminstration.

Ortega has been on the defensive since demonstrations began in much of the country on Wednesday against the plan to increase worker contributions to social security and to lower pensions.

Ensuing unrest killed at least eight people and sparked looting and panic buying, but protests in Managua died down considerably after Ortega’s announcement. At least one protest march was planned for Monday.

The pope, the U.S. government and business leaders all urged Ortega to stop the violence before he appeared on television and said the measures approved last week would be withdrawn.

The government argued welfare changes are needed to bolster Nicaragua’s finances, and Ortega said talks would be held to draft a new plan to strengthen the social security system.

But the government was stung by the protests, which one human rights group said had taken at least 25 lives. Stores in Managua were looted over the weekend.

The police crackdown on demonstrators and curbs on some media in the past few days have fuelled broader criticism of Ortega, who has tightened his hold on the country’s institutions since he took office for a second time 11 years ago.

Nicaragua has been one of the more stable countries in Central America, largely avoiding the turmoil caused by gang violence or political upheaval that has at times plagued Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala in recent years.

But critics accuse Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, of trying to establish a family dictatorship. The country remains one of the poorest in the Americas.