Protests over pension reforms subside in the Central American country after President Daniel Ortega makes a series of concessions, including freeing dozens of arrested protesters, lifting curbs on independent media and calling for dialogue.

A student poses for a picture as students protest against police violence and the government of Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega, in Managua, Nicaragua April 25, 2018.
A student poses for a picture as students protest against police violence and the government of Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega, in Managua, Nicaragua April 25, 2018. (Reuters)

A week of deadly anti-government protests in Nicaragua appeared to be subsiding on Wednesday after concessions by President Daniel Ortega set the scene for talks with powerful business leaders.

A prominent rights group, the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, said 34 people had died in the demonstrations that had been brutally put down by security forces.

Ortega's government has not put out an official death toll since last Friday, when it counted 10 deaths.

The protests were triggered by pension reforms that Ortega ended up withdrawing amid mounting condemnation of the harsh police tactics against the demonstrators.

Other grievances also surfaced, notably resentment at the authoritarian style of Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo, who is his vice president.

The unrest was the worst Ortega has faced in the past 11 years of his current stretch in power.

A mass march in capital Managua on Monday brought together tens of thousands of ordinary Nicaraguans, many of them calling for him to step down.

A student who had been arrested by the police during protests gestures while reporting having been tortured while held in custody, at the Human Rights Permanent Commission, in capital Managua, on April 25, 2018.
A student who had been arrested by the police during protests gestures while reporting having been tortured while held in custody, at the Human Rights Permanent Commission, in capital Managua, on April 25, 2018. (AFP)

Calm returning

By early Wednesday, the protests appeared to fade away after Ortega made a series of concessions, including freeing dozens of arrested protesters, lifting curbs on independent media and calling for dialogue.

Makeshift road blocks had been cleared and traffic in the capital was returning to normal. There was no more of the looting and panic buying that had characterized the worst of the unrest over the weekend.

Some of the released protesters, many of them youths and university students, said they were maltreated in custody.

"The hit all of us in the stomach with kicks, punches and the sticks they use. They hit us in the head," one of them, Marvin Guevara, 26, told AFP news agency.

In jails their hair was cut short and they were made to fill out forms and say if they had any diseases, he said, his voice cracking. Each answer was met with blows, he said.

Another man released, Carlos Sandoval, said they were told they were "political prisoners" for opposing the government and insulted by police.

Jose Castaneda, another freed protester, said: "they put us in a cell where they continued to hit us. They dragged us along the ground." 

More than 200 people were detained in the protests, but no charges were laid.

View of pictures of dead students displayed outside Nicaragua's Polytechnic University, during protests against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's government, in Managua on April 25, 2018. Rights groups say 34 people had died in the demonstrations.
View of pictures of dead students displayed outside Nicaragua's Polytechnic University, during protests against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's government, in Managua on April 25, 2018. Rights groups say 34 people had died in the demonstrations. (AFP)

Talks mooted

The capital's archbishop, Leopoldo Brenes, has put himself forward as a mediator in talks called by Ortega.

The head of the country's powerful employers' union COSEP, Jose Aguerri, told AFP on Tuesday that conditions were coming together for dialogue to take place.

"We had said that the conditions for us to sit down were that there must be freedom of expression, freedom to gather together, the freeing of detainees.... This has happened. Now we are waiting for the Episcopal Conference (the bishops) to make the decision" to start talks, he said.

COSEP had abandoned a longstanding alliance with Ortega when public anger erupted over the deadly force used by his security forces and government-linked groups against protesters.

Winning back the business leaders' support is seen as key for Ortega to restore his authority.

Any talks with them are expected to return to the controversial issue of pension reform that triggered the wave of violence.

Source: AFP