EU hits Nicaragua on rights, seeks sanctions as talks resume

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — The European Parliament approved a strongly worded resolution criticizing Nicaragua on human rights and calling for sanctions Thursday, as talks between President Daniel Ortega’s government and the opposition resumed after being suspended over the weekend.

The non-binding resolution asks the European Union’s External Action Service and member nations for “targeted and individual sanctions” such as visa bans and asset freezes against the Central American nation and “individuals responsible for human rights abuses” until fundamental rights and freedoms are restored and upheld.

EU Parliament member Ana Gomes said the measure was approved by a vote of 332 to 25, with 39 abstentions. Resolutions of this kind do not set EU policy.

At least 325 people died last year amid a crackdown on protests demanding Ortega leave office and allow early elections, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Thousands more were wounded, detained or fled into exile. Ortega’s government has also imposed a de facto ban on opposition demonstrations the past six months and shuttered some independent media outlets and non-governmental organizations.

In Managua, opposition negotiator Carlos Tunnermann said an envoy from the Organization of American States and the Vatican’s ambassador to Nicaragua were acting as “witnesses and companions” to the talks, which broke down four days earlier.

The opposition had conditioned further negotiations on the “total and immediate release” of some 770 people considered political prisoners. On Wednesday, however, some in the Civic Alliance coalition accepted a government proposal to free some prisoners. That is expected to happen Friday.

Government delegates “did not want to commit to a number, but it will be an appreciable number,” Tunnermann said.

The agreement raised objections from other members of the Civic Alliance, including student representatives, who declined to join the talks Thursday.

“The students want to see deeds. The people and the European Union, too, but first you have to put the issue on the table,” said Jose Pallais, another opposition negotiator who confirmed the absence of the student negotiators. “This is the first stage.”

Students groups and others called later in the day for a rally Saturday to demand the release of political prisoners, which if it happens would be the first demonstration since late September.

Pallais dismissed the possibility that the students’ objections could fracture the opposition coalition, saying the Civic Alliance is committed to unity.

“The government has committed in writing, for the first time, to free the political prisoners. ... We are going to fight and we are going to get them all out,” Pallais said. “It is the priority issue. It is at the center of the table.”


Associated Press writer Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.