March 16, 2019 / 11:35 PM / 10 days ago

Anti-government protests erupt in Nicaragua after extended pause

MANAGUA, March 16 (Reuters) - Protesters targeting Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega took to the streets on Saturday, demanding the release of all political prisoners, according to organizers, turning up the heat on the political crisis that has consumed the country since last year.

Witnesses told Reuters that some protesters who gathered at various points in Managua, the capital, were beaten by police, who since November have enforced a ban on street protests. Videos circulating on social media from the protests also showed police hitting civilians.

By Saturday afternoon, the government had arrested at least 61 protesters, according to a count maintained by student organizers. Among the detained include at least two opposition activists who had been participating in a political dialogue with the government launched in late February.

A government spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Government officials released a second group of 50 prisoners on Friday following demands by the opposition for more detainees to be freed before the political talks could continue.

The interior ministry released 100 others in February.

Protests in the Central American nation first erupted in April when Ortega’s leftist government moved to reduce welfare benefits, but since then have escalated into broader opposition to Ortega, a Cold War-era former Marxist guerilla leader who has been in office since 2007.

More than 320 people have been killed and more than 600 remain detained, according to figures from human rights groups.

In the past, the government has said it is the victim of an attempted coup financed by the United States and Europe.

Last month, Ortega said he was willing to reform state institutions ahead of presidential elections in 2021. (Reporting by Ismael Lopez in Managua; Writing by David Alire Garcia Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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