Competing marches peaceful in Nicaraguan capital

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Simultaneous marches of supporters and opponents of President Daniel Ortega’s government passed through the streets of Nicaragua’s capital Saturday without incident.

The larger of the two marches was in support of the Roman Catholic Church and its bishops who are trying to mediate a conflict that has carried on for more than three months and left at least 448 dead, according to a human rights organization.

Marchers chanted on Saturday that the bishops had their support and urged Ortega to step down.

In an anniversary speech for the victory of the Nicaraguan Revolution July 19, Ortega accused the Catholic Church of working with “coup plotters” for his ouster and even of allowing weapons to be stockpiled in their churches. Just days later his tone changed and he said he hoped the bishops would continue mediating a dialogue to end the conflict.

Still, Ortega has refused to consider stepping down before elections scheduled for 2021.

Seventy-year-old Nubia Torres said dialogue is worth a try, but said if Ortega was reasonable he would have already left office.

“Dialogue is believed to be a way out, but not for people like Daniel Ortega,” she said, adding that a military intervention similar to the removal of Manuel Noriega in Panama could be necessary.

Most in the opposition fear that taking up arms against the government would be both futile and play into Ortega’s hands.

Not far away, Ortega supporters carrying the red and black flag of the Sandinista Front marched behind trucks blaring songs praising the president.

Roger Moncada, a 30-year-old accountant, echoed Ortega in calling the opposition “terrorists” and the three months of unrest a failed coup attempt.

He accused human rights organizations of only blaming the government for the deaths.

“The justice has to be even,” he said.

The Nicaraguan Pro-Human Rights Association said this week that 399 of dead had been identified and other evidence had been gathered to document the other cases. The vast majority of the dead have been demonstrators, it said.

Police and paramilitary groups apparently working in coordination with authorities have been blamed for most of the violence.

Moncada says that now that the police have cleared the protesters’ roadblocks and are arresting their leaders, “the only way out is dialogue.”