Journalist among at least 26 killed in Nicaragua unrest, as president says willing to enter talks

But President Ortega said the dialogue would just be with business leaders and not other sectors of society

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 April, 2018, 3:45pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 April, 2018, 7:04pm

In the grainy, nighttime video, journalist Angel Gahona, wearing jeans and a blue shirt, holds up a mobile phone and narrates as he approaches the facade of city hall in Bluefields, Nicaragua, reporting live online on protests that have rocked the Central American nation for four days.

Seconds later a gunshot rings out and Gahona slumps lifeless to the curb. Voices cry his name and someone presses a piece of cloth to his head to try to staunch the stream of blood. Another Bluefields reporter, Ileana Lacayo, confirms that he died before reaching the hospital.

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Besides Gahona, at least 25 others have been killed since Wednesday in unrest over social security reforms planned by President Daniel Ortega’s government, according to a human rights group. Dozens more have been injured or arrested.

Ortega said on Saturday in his first public appearance since the demonstrations began that his government is willing to enter into talks over the dispute. In a nationally televised address, he said he is open to negotiations so there is “no more terror for Nicaraguan families”.

But he said the dialogue would only be with business leaders and not other sectors of society. He also seemed to try to justify what has been a heavy-handed response by the government and allied groups, accusing demonstrators, most of them university students, of being manipulated by unspecified “minority” political interests and of being infiltrated by gangsters.

“What is happening in our country has no name. The kids do not even know the party that is manipulating them. … Gang members are being brought into the kids’ protests and are criminalising the protests. That is why they are put at risk,” Ortega said.

Those remarks appeared to fan the flames, as soon afterwards thousands of people spilled back into the streets in seven cities including the capital, Managua, after tensions had calmed somewhat on Friday night.

“We are in the streets asking for Ortega and his wife to go. This has already gone beyond the social security issue. Here there have been dead, wounded, and he does not even apologise for his killings or the savage repression against the people,” said Mauri Hernandez, one of thousands of demonstrators at a central rotunda.

On Friday night vice-president, first lady and government spokeswoman Rosario Murillo said nine people had been confirmed dead in the clashes, though the human rights group Cenidh said on Saturday it had counted at least 25 deaths nationwide.

Minutes later news emerged of the killing of Gahona, who worked for the news show Meridiano. In a separate video that he filmed himself, he showed damage to an ATM as riot police advanced up a darkened street.

The source of the gunshot was not discernible in either of the videos, but Lacayo was quoted by La Prensa newspaper as saying that police were the only ones carrying weapons at the scene.

A prominent business chamber issued a statement conditioning its talks with Ortega on an end to repression, the freeing of detained protesters and respect for freedom of expression as authorities have kept off the air a private news channel that is covering the protests.

“We cannot go into a dialogue if these minimal conditions are not met,” it said.