Activists faced off with Nicaraguan pro-government forces in hours of deadly clashes on Thursday amid a nationwide strike to protest government repression of dissent that has left at least 162 dead, including an altar boy. Despite the 24-hour work stoppage that gave the capital Managua the air of a ghost town, fierce unrest in other areas persisted, leaving at least four dead during pro-government attacks on activists guarding barricades.
Managua's auxiliary bishop Silvio Jose Baez reported that a 15-year-old altar boy from the country's second largest city Leon died after a paramilitary's bullet struck him in the chest. ”God welcomes (him) to the altar of heaven,” the bishop tweeted.
He also warned of riot police and paramilitary groups indiscriminately shooting in the streets of Nindiri, a city 20 kilometers southeast of Managua.
The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) raised to 162 the death toll from two months of sociopolitical upheaval that President Daniel Ortega's government has met with a brutal crackdown.
Nagarote, 42 kilometers northwest of Managua, saw hours of fiery exchanges between armed Ortega-backed forces and activists with mortars that resulted in at least one anti-government activist death, the local vicar Juan Lopez said.
Another death, the details of which remained unclear, occurred in Masatepe in similar street battles. And in Tipitapa, 20 kilometers north of the capital, heavy clashes ensued when paramilitary gangs attempted to forcibly remove the blockades erected by activists.
Amid the confrontations that saw a bus and cars set alight, hundreds of women took to the streets banging on cazuela clay pots, waving handkerchiefs and shouting at aggressors to go away -- a tactic that ultimately worked, according to local footage.
Following reports of the deaths that occurred during what was supposed to be a peaceful strike, Baez in a tweet addressed the president directly: Mr Daniel Ortega, I repeat what I said personally in your face.
Repressing and killing is aggravating the crisis. People shout in the street, 'Let him go!' Collaborate to find a solution, the bishop said.
The work stoppage comes as Nicaragua's influential Catholic clergy work to rekindle crisis talks. The bishops on Friday will publicly unveil both their mediation offer and Ortega's response -- something the country has been anticipating for a week.
Foreign Minister Denis Moncada was to head the government delegation at the meeting, said the spokesperson for Ortega's vice president and wife Rosario Murillo. The church previously called off talks with Ortega after a march led by victims' mothers was violently repressed last month.