Nicaragua government says it will free all jailed protesters

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — President Daniel Ortega’s administration promised Wednesday to free within 90 days all demonstrators arrested in the year since protests erupted against the Nicaraguan government.

The release of an estimated 640 opposition protesters had been the main demand of the opposition for continuing talks with the government. In return, the government is asking for the lifting of sanctions imposed on Ortega’s government.

The announcement on prisoners was made by Waldemar Sommertag, the papal nuncio in Nicaragua, accompanied by opposition and government officials.

The statement said the talks that started Feb. 27 would resume Thursday, after several days of tension since weekend protests were broken up by security forces.

At least 325 people died last year amid the anti-government protests, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Starting in April 2018, Nicaragua’s economy was devastated by nearly five months of unrest initially sparked by cuts to social security benefits but that quickly evolved into calls for Ortega to step down and allow early elections.

The government cracked down on the protests, and thousands of people were wounded, detained or fled into exile. The government has since imposed a de facto ban on opposition demonstrations and shuttered some independent media outlets and non-governmental organizations.

According to an agenda for the talks issued Tuesday, discussions will focus on electoral reform. Ortega has been accused of perpetuating himself in power and undermining the independence of electoral authorities and other branches of government.

The government and the opposition Civic Alliance will also invite the International Red Cross to monitor the prisoner release, and the Organization of American States to accompany talks on electoral reforms.

The opposition has called for early elections in 2021. Ortega so far has rejected the idea of moving up elections.

Once agreements are reached, “In due time, and in agreement between the parties, a call will be made to the international community to suspend sanctions,” according to the agenda document.