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Nicaragua: 10 months of deadly crisis

(AFP) — A now-abandoned pension reform announced in April 2018 kicked off months of anti-government protests in Nicaragua that were harshly repressed, claiming around 325 lives.

Even after the protests ended in October, President Daniel Ortega pursued a crackdown on the opposition with more than 750 people arrested on charges of terrorism.

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As long-awaited peace talks were due to resume Wednesday, here is a timeline.

PENSION REFORM FURY

On April 18, 2018, the government presents a plan to increase employee and employer contributions to the social security fund and reduce benefits, in an IMF-backed bid to cap a rising deficit.

Student-led protesters vent fury in several cities. Daily demonstrations are harshly repressed, claiming around 25 lives in five days, many of the dead being university students and youths.

Ortega scraps the pension reform on April 22.

UNLAWFUL KILLINGS

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On April 23, tens of thousands of people demonstrate in the capital Managua to demand an end to government repression.

The United Nations on April 24 urges Nicaragua to carry out an independent investigation into the deaths, saying some may have been “unlawful.”

CHURCH MEDIATES

On May 16, as the death toll passes 50, talks begin in Managua between Ortega and opposition groups, mediated by the influential Catholic Church.

The Church calls off negotiations after a week, with the government rejecting early elections. Talks resume on May 28.

Amnesty International says paramilitary groups are being used to suppress demonstrations against Ortega’s government.

On May 31, the death toll hits 100 as Ortega rejects calls to step down. The Church again suspends talks.

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When mediation resumes on June 7, the Church tables a plan for early presidential elections and constitutional reforms. It says Ortega requested a “period of reflection”.

GENERAL STRIKE

Violence erupts in Managua on June 11 with anti-riot police attacking barricades manned by protesters.

On June 14, a general strike paralyses Nicaragua, with more deadly violence.

On June 15, the government and opposition agree that human rights observers should investigate the violence. By now at least 170 people have been killed.

UNIVERSITY, BASILICA ATTACKED

Overnight June 22-23, police open fire at a key student protest camp in the capital, leaving more dead.

On July 7, Ortega rules out bringing forward presidential elections, describing his opponents as “putschists”.

The following day hundreds of Ortega supporters break into a basilica in the opposition heartland of Diriamba and harass Roman Catholic bishops.

On July 16, a law on terrorism is adopted providing for up to 20 years in jail for demonstrators. The death toll passes 300.

CLIMATE OF FEAR

On August 31, the government expels the UN human rights mission after it criticized a “climate of fear” in Nicaragua.

On November 1, Washington labels Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua a “troika of tyranny.”

On December 19, the government expels two expert missions from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, accusing them of meddling and bias.

ORTEGA SIDELINED

A day later, US President Donald Trump signs a law limiting Nicaragua’s access to international loans.

The police on December 21 shut down an opposition television channel and arrest its director, accused of “terrorism”.

On January 29, 2019, the Socialist International group of world socialist and labour parties kicks out Ortega’s Sandinista party for rights violations.

On February 22, the United Nations condemns the “criminalisation of dissent” in Nicaragua.

As peace talks between the government and opposition are due to open on February 27, authorities release dozens of prisoners arrested during the protests.

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