Nicaraguans go on strike to protest Ortega's grip on power
Nicaragua's capital Managua has taken on the airs of a ghost town, as a day-long national strike is being held to protest two months of violent chaos under President Daniel Ortega.
"This is a national and peaceful civil strike that covers the entire country and all economic activities, except those related to the preservation of life and the coverage of basic services for the population," announced the National Alliance for Justice and Democracy, a key player in the stalled crisis talks.
On Thursday, commerce stood still as shops, banks and eateries across the country closed for the "peaceful" strike ending at midnight.
Images from the capital's normally bustling Mercado Oriental market showed shuttered storefronts. Busses and taxis were nowhere in sight.
At least 147 people have been killed, most of them students, since the unrest started more than six weeks ago, according to local human rights activists.
A previous round of talks arranged by bishops broke up at the end of May after government security forces were accused of renewing brutal tactics to quash demonstrations.
Talks will begin again on Friday, the bishops' conference said in a statement.
Translation: Today at noon, this is how the street of Jose Dolores Estrada, in the city centre, looks like. Stores closed.
— LuisEduardoMartínezM (@LUISEMATAGALPA) June 14, 2018
The Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua said that it has received an answer from President Daniel Ortega to its proposal for solving the impasse.
On Friday it will publicly unveil both their mediation offer and Ortega's response – something the country has been anticipating for a week.
Managua's vocal auxiliary bishop Silvio Jose Baez tweeted that the Church supports "the national strike as an act of pressure and social protest."
The strike "will demand an end to the repression, and support democratic and peaceful change, and a return to dialogue," he said.
The strike will demand an end to the repression
Silvio Jose Baez
The unrest started as a student-led protest against a reform that planed to cut pensions and social security, while increasing worker social contributions, an idea that Ortega later scrapped.
But it now has expanded into a nationwide revolt against the president.
Ortega's government has been elected three times since 2007, but now he refuses to accept responsability for the violence and has ignored calls to step down.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights voiced "alarm and deep concern" over Nicaragua's "serious human rights crisis" in a statement.
The commission condemned "the excessive use of state force" and attacks on protesters by pro-government paramilitary forces, groups that "the State has the obligation to dismantle."