A nationwide strike in most of Nicaragua emptied streets on Friday as businesses shut their doors, heeding the call of the Alianza Cívica por la Justicia y la Democracia (Civic Alliance) that have demanded President Daniel Ortega’s resignation after more than three months of bloody civil unrest.
The general strike followed mass protests that spread out across the country on Thursday.
More than 300 people have been killed in confrontations between pro-government 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 Masaya, the city from which rebels, led by Daniel Ortega launched an attack on dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979.
The President arrived at the police station in Masaya under strong security, where in addition to greeting and taking pictures with armed police and riot police, he gave a brief speech saying he lamented the crisis and offered to hold talks with opponents of his government.
“Today we are commemorating the 39th anniversary of the ‘repliegue’ (withdrawal) and given the painful circumstances facing our country, our homeland, Nicaragua, this withdrawal, in the name of the heroes and martyrs of that heroic deed, we dedicate to peace,” he said.
“I invite (protesters) to end the confrontation and that all of us unite to give people the peace that Nicaragua needs,” he added, flanked by supporters.
It is the first time, since 1980, that the repliegue does not end in the indigenous community of Monimbó, where the inhabitants remain entrenched in barricades. Although, after Ortega left Masaya, the police launched a strong attack in Monimbó against protesters.
Ortega is currently serving his third consecutive term which runs until 2021.
Later on Friday, some students were barricaded inside the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua (UNAN), in Managua, as pro-government paramilitary groups shot at the building from outside.
It was not clear how many people had been injured at the university.
Representatives of the Civil Alliance have called for President Ortega to call early elections, in March 2019, as a way out of the crisis, while Ortega last Saturday ruled out such option and reconfirmed by Ortega’s top diplomat, Foreign Minister Denis Moncada, during a session of the Organization of American States (OAS) 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 Moncada.