MANAGUA (Reuters) – Hundreds of Nicaraguans opposed to President Daniel Ortega took to the streets of the capital Managua on Wednesday in protests deemed illegal by the government and several dozen were arrested, according to an opposition group.
Video showed that police in riot gear at the site of the main protest attempted to impede some 200 marchers as peaceful, flag-waving Nicaraguans shouted pro-democracy slogans. One journalist was also briefly arrested.
Anti-government protests began a year ago this week, evolving into a broader resistance movement and the sharpest test of Ortega’s grip on power since he took office for a second time in 2007. A Cold War adversary of the United States, the 73-year-old Ortega served a single term as president in the 1980s.
A total of 67 protesters were detained by police during the day, according to the opposition Blue and White National Unity movement, which organised the protests in defiance of a ban issued a day earlier by the government.
Police and government officials did not respond to requests for comment.
The government on Tuesday said it had released more than 600 prisoners, but denied that any had been held for political reasons. [nL1N21Z00B]
Journalist Abixael Mogollon with Nicaraguan digital outlet Aritculo 66 was covering the protests on Wednesday and was among those detained although he was later released.
“I was in the midst of a live broadcast and (the police) ordered me to stop and then they took me into a vehicle and began hitting my chest and legs,” Mogollon told Reuters.
He added that four women who had been arrested were also released but not before he witnessed them also being struck, threatened and their possessions taken from them.
The protests first erupted last April when Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla, tried to cut welfare benefits.
At least 324 people have been killed in the civil unrest since then, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an autonomous arm of the Organization of American States.
Ortega has called the protests an illegal plot by his adversaries to oust him, while critics have accused him of employing authoritarian tactics and seeking to entrench a family dynasty in the Central American nation.
The government had prohibited the opposition march on the grounds that those behind it were involved in “grave disturbances to public order” in past protests.
(Reporting by Ismael Lopez; Writing by David Alire Garcia; editing by Grant McCool)