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Nicaraguan protesters collide with the police



Protests raged on Saturday in Nicaragua, where at least four people were killed, for four days in clashes between police and protesters, angered by the President's increase in social security contributions

Daniel Ortega.

Television screens showed demonstrators in the capital, Managua, blocking roads and setting tires on fire when the riot police confronted them with tear gas and rubber bullets. The protesters also struck down "Trees of Life" – small metal sculptures along the city's night-lit boulevards built by Ms. Ortega's wife and vice-president

Rosario Murillo,

The protests started by university students, but including Nicaraguans from all walks of life, were unexpected as the Ortega government brought economic growth and the drug violence that kept it off has plagued Nicaragua's neighbors. But the authoritarian nature of Mr Ortega's presidency had not calmed down for years, and the recent tax hikes triggered widespread protests.

"Obviously, there is a lot of pent-up frustration," said

Eric Farnsworth,

Vice President of Washington Think Tank Americas Society / Council of the Americas. "The government has praised its social peace, which has been bought at the cost of reduced civil liberties and democratic practices."

Local media reported 1

0 deaths since protests began, but the Cenidh human rights group told the Associated Press that it counted at least 25 deaths nationwide

The United Nations called on Nicaragua to fulfill its international obligations of peaceful assembly and freedom of speech while the Organization of American States said it followed the protests with "bias". At least 100 people were injured In several cities troops were stationed.

The demonstrations started after the adoption of unpopular measures to rescue the social security system through tax increases and cuts in pension benefits.

Opponents claim the Ortega government has badly managed the social security system For years, he has been using it as a piggy bank to finance housing projects developed by Mr. Ortega's ally.

The International Monetary Fund has warned that Nicaragua's social security system may be used up by 2019. "The authorities should act swiftly to avoid a costly rescue of the system," the IMF said in a report last year.

In a sweeping speech on Saturday, Mr. Ortega said his government was prepared to negotiate with the country's leading economic organization, the CSEP, a social security overhaul pleading for a peaceful demonstration on Monday

"We demand the Nicaraguan people to preserve peace, "said Ortega, a former Marxist revolutionary who was elected in 2016 for a third term.

However, the influential group of companies said it will not negotiate with the government until it has finished its hard work of protesting, demonstrating detainees and restoring media freedom.

Mr. Ortega has had friendly relations with the private sector of the country. His government, which had helped with cheap oil supplies from Venezuela, was able to bring high economic growth to Nicaragua, one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere.

He was able to largely rid Nicaragua of widespread drug violence in its northern neighbors of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala

Critics say that Mr. Ortega is trying to build a dynastic dictatorship like the one headed by

Gene. Anastasio Somoza,

Mr. Ortega and his Sandinista guerrilla movement in 1979 have overthrown.

Since last week university students, retirees and opponents of Ortega, including many angry former Sandinista comrades, have taken to the streets. They have been confronted by the police and the masses of young opponents of the regime, known as the "divine mobs" that the Ortega government has used in the past to stifle dissenters. In some cases, the demonstrators reacted with stones and Molotov cocktails.

"No one knew that the anger was there," said a prominent businessman, who was not to be named for fear of reprisals. "On Friday, bank employees and employees of large companies, who are usually very cautious, took to the streets to protest."

Write to José de Córdoba at jose.decordoba@wsj.com


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