Church siege ends as UN calls on Nicaragua to end repression


MANAGUA - Opposition protesters holding a hunger strike inside Managua's Catholic Cathedral and the pro-government supporters opposing them ended a standoff Tuesday, as the UN called on President Daniel Ortega to halt persistent repression.

The activists, who were demanding the release of political prisoners, were able to leave a building where they had taken refuge after a mob of Ortega supporters broke into the cathedral Monday and attempted to dislodge them.

In the process, the government supporters injured a priest and a nun.

"We had a bad, bad, bad time" one of the protesters, Janeth Chavarria, told reporters after she and the other hunger strikers were evacuated by the Nicaraguan Red Cross.

The protesters were able to leave after the government dislodged its own supporters from the surroundings.

The Catholic Church has a powerful role in the country but President Daniel Ortega has accused bishops of supporting deadly anti-government protests that rocked the country last year.

The priest and nun were attacked when they attempted to block the group from taking control of the cathedral, according to an archdiocese statement.

Students shouting "Respect the Church" demonstrated at the Central American University in Managua on Tuesday, and threw water and dirt at security forces blocking the entrance.

They also demanded the release of 16 opposition activists, including Belgian-born student leader Amaya Coppens, who were arrested for trying to bring water to 11 female hunger strikers.

The UN human rights office voiced alarm at the harsh tactics used against the protesters.

"The government must end the persistent repression of dissent and the ongoing pattern of arbitrary arrests," UN rights office spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva.

He also called on Managua to "refrain from criminalizing and attacking human rights defenders, political opponents and any other dissenting voices."

Nicaragua's political crisis erupted in April 2018, when protests mushroomed into a popular uprising against Ortega that was met with a brutal crackdown in which hundreds were killed. Critics accuse Ortega, a former rebel hero, of running a repressive leftist dictatorship. -AFP