Rights groups sound alarm over rising Nicaraguan toll

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MANAGUA, June 27, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Nicaraguan human rights groups expressed renewed concern Tuesday over a rising death toll from months of protests against the government of President Daniel Ortega.

The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) has reported at least 212 people dead, but told AFP on Tuesday it was investigating possible new deaths in recent days.

Another group, the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH) published a report Tuesday putting the death toll at 285, saying it had identified 262 of the dead by name. It said 156 people were missing.

It said the majority of the victims were young people killed by gunfire, with wounds to the head or chest, in the capital and department of Managua and in the city of Masaya.

Fear caused by pro-government gangs of hooded, heavily-armed, men in civilian clothes had caused virtual curfews in several cities, including the capital.

“The repression has increased” since “these paramilitary groups began to operate, repressing, torturing, killing and violating human rights,” the head of the ANPDH Alvaro Leiva told AFP.

Nicaragua’s army has faced growing demand from Ortega’s critics in recent days to dismantle and disarm the paramilitaries.

The government and opposition which is demanding Ortega’s resignation, resumed talks on Monday aimed at ending two months of unrest.

The protests began in April as demonstrations against now-scrapped social security reforms, but a heavy-handed police reaction transformed them into demands for justice for those killed, and for the exit of Ortega and his wife Vice President Rosario Murillo.

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