At least 13 people were killed and dozens injured as government forces opened fire on peaceful protesters in two cities in Nicaragua as anti-government demonstrations threatening to bring down the president continued.
Hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans had marched through the capital of Managua on Wednesday, many dressed in black to mourn the more than 80 people killed since protests began.
As marchers gathered around the end-point at the University of Central America (UCA), shots rang out a few hundred metres away. Families with children desperately fled the scene. The rector of UCA said thousands of people took refuge on its campus.
Footage shows that shots came from both snipers in plain clothes firing from surrounding buildings, and riot police on foot.
Katherine Martinez, 22 a stay-at-home mum, was with her husband outside the nearby University of Engineering when the shooting began.
“Riot police started advancing towards us, then suddenly shots came down from above,” she said. “I saw the man in front of me hit in the head.”
Protests first broke out on April 18, after the Nicaraguan government, led by former Sandinista revolutionary Daniel Ortega, pushed through reforms cutting pensions and disability payments.
The demonstrations were initially spearheaded by pensioners and students. But they quickly escalated into calls for Mr Ortega’s resignation after police and gangs shooting at protesters caused dozens of deaths.
Poorer urban neighbourhoods that were traditionally bastions of Sandinista support have turned against the president. Fierce street fighting took place in the indigenous borough of Monimbo, which in 1978 was the first civilian population to rise alongside Sandinista guerrillas against dictator Anastasio Somoza.
The welfare reforms were really “social explosives” that ignited pre-existing anger at government authoritarianism, said Monica Lopez, a Nicaraguan human rights lawyer.
“For years the Ortega government has imposed its decisions and used violence to suppress any protest,” she said. “They’ve established total control over state institutions, to the extent that there is no access to justice for ordinary people, with all the seriousness that implies.
“These protests are the result of all Nicaraguan society, rural and urban, saying we have to dismantle this apparatus of repression.”
The head of the Organization of American States on Thursday condemned killings in Nicaragua by "repressive forces and the armed forces," and called on the government President Daniel Ortega to stop the violence.
The appeal by Luis Almagro, secretary general of the regional security organization, followed bloody clashes Wednesday in which 11 people were killed, according to a rights group.
"We condemn the killings carried out by the repressive forces and the armed forces and we express our solidarity with the families of the victims," Almagro said. "We call on the state to stop the violence by these repressive factors."
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