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Nicaragua’s Ortega refuses protest demands to step down

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Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega refused Monday to bow to protesters’ demands that he step down, vowing in an interview with US television that he will see through his current term until 2021.

“Our electoral period ends with the elections of 2021, when we will have our next elections,” he told Fox News, adding that he would not countenance opposition demands for early elections.

“To move up the elections would create instability, insecurity and make things worse,” he said.

The 72-year-old leader, who has ruled Nicaragua for a total of 22 years since his Sandinista revolution toppled a US-backed dictator in 1979, declared that the deadly unrest rocking his country since April had ended.

“It’s been a week now that the turmoil has stopped. Matters are becoming more normal in the country,” he said.

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He acknowledged that peaceful demonstrations for and against his government were ongoing.

The assertion that Nicaragua’s turmoil was over followed lethal offensives by police and pro-government paramilitaries against protest hubs earlier this month.

Rights groups say nearly 300 people have died in the three months of violence.

Ortega rejected allegations that he controlled the pro-government paramilitaries seen acting in concert with the police.

He instead accused Nicaraguan political groups of heading rival anti-government militias, which he said had sought financing from drug traffickers and the United States. He accused those militias of killing “tens” of police officers in the unrest.

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“None of the peaceful demonstrations” have been attacked, he said.

Ortega denied reports by protesters and priests that his forces shot dead two young men holed up in a Managua church that came under sustained fire on July 13 and 14.

“No Nicaraguan has died in any church. Not a single Nicaraguan has died in any church. That’s false,” Ortega said.

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It was also wrong to say priests were being targeted, he said.

“There’s not a single priest that we are persecuting,” Ortega said, adding that he welcomed efforts by the Catholic Church to mediate talks between his government and opposition groups.

‘Terrible lies’
The president also dismissed detractors’ claims that he was intent on starting a ruling dynasty by making his wife, Rosario Murillo, his vice president in 2016.

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“It never occurred to me to set up a dynasty,” he said. “My wife, it’s the first time ever she’s been vice president.”

Ortega said he was speaking to Fox News after years of refusing interviews with foreign media because he wanted the United States to show Nicaragua “respect.”

“The history of our relations with the United States has been painful. I don’t want to repeat it,” he said, criticizing a resolution against Nicaragua that US lawmakers were reported to be preparing.

He also hit out at what he called “a campaign of lies, terrible lies to try to hurt the image of Nicaragua and of its government.”

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