MASAYA, Nicaragua: A nationwide strike in most of Nicaragua emptied streets on Friday as businesses shut their doors, heeding the call of civil society groups that have demanded President Daniel Ortega’s resignation after more than three months of bloody civil unrest.
The general strike followed mass protests that fanned out across the Central American nation on Thursday.
Nicaragua has been convulsed by unrest since April when its leftist president proposed reducing pension benefits to cover a social security shortfall. The plan, later dropped, provoked deadly demonstrations and led to demands for Ortega’s resignation and early elections.
Some 300 people have been killed in clashes between pro-Ortega forces and demonstrators, rights groups say, in the deadliest protests in Nicaragua since its civil war ended in 1990.
Local television showed deserted streets in Managua and much of the rest of the country while Ortega and his entourage attended a traditional march in the legendary revolutionary stronghold of Masaya, the city from which rebels launched an attack on dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979.
In brief remarks, Ortega said he lamented the crisis and offered to hold talks with opponents of his government.
"I invite (protesters) to end the confrontation and that all of us unite to give people the peace that Nicaragua needs," he said, flanked by supporters.
Ortega, a Cold War-era U.S. foe, is currently serving his third consecutive term which runs until 2021.
Later on Friday, some students were barricaded inside the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua, located in the capital, as pro-Ortega paramilitary groups shot at the building from outside, according to local media reports.
It was not clear how many people had been injured at the university.
Representatives of civil society organizations have called for early elections to end the impasse, while Ortega’s top diplomat dismissed the possibility during a session of the Organization of American States in Washington.
"You can’t strengthen the country’s institutions, you can’t strengthen the country’s democracy by violating its constitution…and impose the will of groups that seek a change of government," said Foreign Minister Denis Moncada.
(Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)