20 dead in Nicaragua protests

Inti Ocon AFP | Students clash with riot police at the Institute of Social Security in Managua

Inti Ocon AFP | Students clash with riot police at the Institute of Social Security in Managua

The violent demonstrations were triggered from the new social security measures, which advanced by the Nicaraguan Institute of Social Security (INSS), establish an increase in contribution and a deduction of five percent from pensions.

At least 67 people have been shot by the police with live rounds or rubber bullets, or beaten by members of the Sandinista Youth and other pro-government groups.

Information on the deaths is still piecemeal, but most of the dead are believed to have been civilians protesting against the reform, although one of the first victims was a 33-year-old policeman who was shot dead, officials said. No more recent official toll has yet been made available. Graphic footage of the incident soon spread onto local and social media.

Bishop Baez also tweeted that he was calling on military and police forces to end the repression against protesters and "to listen to God's voice in their hearts: 'Thou shall not kill!"

Pope Francis called for an end to the violence.

Ortega - who had not given his face during crisis - appeared at noon on Saturday, local time, accompanied by head of army, Julio César Avilés, in a demonstration of strength that sought to crush any doubt of regime's power.

Analysts and business leaders said the protests were fuelled by dissatisfaction that went well beyond anger over pension reform.

State-affiliated media showed images of armed soldiers patrolling the city center and said they were safeguarding strategic concerns after fires at several public buildings. Nicabus, an global bus line with links to Costa Rica and Honduras, said it has been forced to suspend services due to the violence.

He also tried to justify the tough response to the protests, accusing the demonstrators of being manipulated by politicians and gangsters.

"What is happening in our country has no name", Ortega said. "The kids do not even know the party that is manipulating them", Mr Ortega said. This Saturday, government's response was given hours after Nicaragua's business leadership rejected president's dialogue and demanded a cessation of repression and respect for Nicaraguan's right to protest. "That is why they are put at risk", Ortega said.

The center's director, Vilma Nunez, warned that there was "a lot of misinformation" going around that made obtaining the figure hard.

At lunchtime on Sunday, before Mr. Ortega's announcement, the streets of central Managua were largely deserted, with businesses looted or shuttered, as tension lingered. Ortega said Saturday that his government is willing to enter into talks over social security reforms that have sparked four days of protests and clashes in which, rights monitors say, at least 25 people have died.

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