Nicaragua's veteran leader Daniel Ortega defended brutal action by his forces against anti-government protesters, as the United States warned he and his wife were ultimately responsible for deaths and rights violations.
In the latest of a number of foreign media interviews the usually hermetic president is now giving, Ortega told the Euronews and CNN Spanish television channels the unrest was fomented by the United States.
He described armed and masked paramilitaries seen cooperating closely with his security forces against the protesters as volunteer police. And Ortega reaffirmed his rejection of opposition calls for early elections or his resignation.
That would open the doors to anarchy in the country, he asserted to Euronews.
The interviews showed that the former leftwing guerrilla who has ruled Nicaragua for 22 of the past 39 years, was digging in despite growing international condemnation.
Three months of turmoil have killed anywhere between 300 and 450 people, according to Nicaraguan rights groups and the UN.
Ortega disputes that count as not correct. He gave his own death toll of 195, including two dozen police officers, as well as paramilitaries, sympathizers of his ruling Sandinista party and other civilians.
Although tensions have diminished in the past week and a half following intense armed operations against protest hubs resentment against Ortega and his wife Vice President Rosario Murillo simmers unabated.
On Monday in Leon, a northwestern town that was formerly a bastion of Sandinista support before many turned against the party, demonstrations were held in front of state-run hospitals where some staff have been sacked for treating wounded protesters and expressing sympathy with their cause.
Another demonstration took place in the capital, with Nicaraguan journalists demanding an end to assaults against them. Over the weekend, thousands of people marched in Managua to show support for the Catholic Church, which has been mediating unsuccessful talks between Ortega's administration and the opposition.
The president has accused the bishops taking part of siding with the coup-mongers seeking to topple him, and allowing churches to become shelters for terrorists.