As families bury their dead, UN calls for end of Nicaragua violence
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As families bury their dead, UN calls for end of Nicaragua violence

San Jose: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says groups linked to Nicaragua's government are using "unacceptable" lethal force against citizens and is urging an end to violence that has killed at least 275 people in months of protests.

It comes as families began burying the dead following a bloody weekend that saw police and paramilitary groups attack roadblocks set up by anti-government demonstrators demanding Ortega's exit from office. At least 10 people were shot dead in incidents around the country on Sunday.

Family members cry over the body of Gerald Vasquez, an engineering student that was killed during the July 14 attack by police and paramilitary forces on the National University of Managua.

Family members cry over the body of Gerald Vasquez, an engineering student that was killed during the July 14 attack by police and paramilitary forces on the National University of Managua.

Photo: AP

Relatives and friends of 20-year-old university student Gerald Vasquez, one of two students killed on Saturday when pro-government groups attacked the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua, carried his casket to a Managua cemetery, chanting "They were students, they weren't delinquents!"

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In the Nicaraguan capital, Managua, hundreds of people took to the streets on Monday to the streets demanding justice for victims of the violent crackdown on protests against President Daniel Ortega, after 12 more people were killed over the weekend.

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"It's evident that there is a shocking number of deaths and a lethal use of force by entities tied to the state that is unacceptable," Guterres told a news conference in neighbouring Costa Rica.

"It's essential to immediately halt the violence and rebuild national political dialogue. Only a political solution is acceptable," Guterres added, speaking at the 40th anniversary of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Friends and family carry the coffin with the body of Gerald Vasquez at his funeral on Monday.

Friends and family carry the coffin with the body of Gerald Vasquez at his funeral on Monday.

Photo: AP

At least 275 people have died since unrest broke out in April, according to the Nicaraguan rights group CENIDH, when Ortega attempted to trim pension benefits. The government later dropped the plan, but its heavy-handed response to the demonstrations sparked a wider protest against Ortega's rule.

The attacks have drawn international condemnation of Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla leader facing his biggest test in office since he returned to power in 2007.

Ortega says he is open to dialogue, and has invited the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to verify his assertion that human rights have been respected in the country.

Alvaro Leiva, director of the Nicaraguan Pro-Human Rights Association, said more than 20 were also wounded in Sunday's violence in several cities south of Managua.

In the Monimbo neighbourhood of Masaya, "the attacks have not ceased and the city is closed," Leiva said. "Nobody can get in or out."

The coffin containing the body of two-year-old Daryeli Velazquez Raude, one of the six Velazquez who died in blaze after armed assailants set fire to their house in Managua on Saturday.

The coffin containing the body of two-year-old Daryeli Velazquez Raude, one of the six Velazquez who died in blaze after armed assailants set fire to their house in Managua on Saturday.

Photo: AP

In the municipality of Nindiri, on the outskirts of Masaya, Roman Catholic Bishop Abelardo Mata of the Esteli archdiocese was attacked as he was travelling in a car to a funeral.

Roberto Petray, a friend of the priest, told the news channel 100% Noticias that Mata was forced from the vehicle by assailants who broke its windows and punctured its tires.

Images broadcast by the channel showed supporters of Ortega's Sandinista Front movement during the incident.

"The bishops support the coup d'etat that is desired against the government," an unidentified person yelled as others bashed the car's windows.

Managua auxiliary Bishop Silvio Baez tweeted later that Mata, who sought safety in a nearby home, was not in danger.

Students who had taken refuge at the Jesus of Divine Mercy church amid a barrage of armed attacks, arrive on a bus to the Metropolitan cathedral, in Managua, on Saturday.

Students who had taken refuge at the Jesus of Divine Mercy church amid a barrage of armed attacks, arrive on a bus to the Metropolitan cathedral, in Managua, on Saturday.

Photo: AP

It was the third attack in a week on Catholic officials, who have been mediating stalled talks on finding a peaceful solution to the standoff and have criticized Ortega's government over the killings.

In a weekend statement, Nicaragua's Episcopal Conference reiterated its call for peace.

"The attacks perpetrated by the National Police, by pro-government paramilitary groups and mobs incited to attack and sow terror among the people protesting civically are condemnable judicially and morally," the religious body said in a statement.

The Sandinista-allied news portal 19 Digital published photos of highways that it said had been "liberated" of roadblocks, adding that "the people can circulate with tranquility and security to go about their daily activities."

ORtega calls those seeking his exit "coup mongers".

In a statement on Monday, the US State Department called on Ortega's government to heed Nicaraguans' call for democratic reforms immediately and hold elections.

Reuters, AP