Nicaragua riots: US State Department pull embassy staff out of the country amid mass violence

At least 24 people are dead as a result of a crack down on the protests, according to aide agencies

Clark Mindock
New York
Monday 23 April 2018 19:30
Nicaragua riots: army deployed as student-led protests turn violent

The United States State Department is pulling some of its embassy staff and their families out of Nicaragua following days of deadly riots in the country.

The US State Department also raised the threat level for Nicaragua following the deadly protests, and is urging Americans to reconsider any travel plans to the country. The embassy in Managua will no longer provide services to the public, except for emergencies or by phone.

"Violent crime, such as sexual assault and armed robbery, is common," a notice from State read. "Police presence and emergency response are extremely limited outside of major urban areas."

The student-led protests began last week in response to President Daniel Ortega's plan to reform the country's pension plan, which would have increased employer and employee contributions while reducing benefits.

Mr Ortega announced that he was revoking that plan Sunday, hoping to placate the uproar in the country.

At least 24 people have been killed during the country's violent protests, and students leading the charge have vowed to continue their demonstrations until Mr Ortega leaves office, alongside his wife and vice-president, Rosario Murillo.

There is some variance in the number of reported deaths, however. The Red Cross has reported nine deaths since the protests began Wednesday, and that they have helped 433 injured people. The Nicaraguan Centre of Human Rights said that at least 25 people have died. That group says that 120 people had been arrested,

"The protests are no longer just for the [Nicaraguan Social Security Institute], it is against a government that denies us freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and to demonstrate peacefully," Clifford Ramirez, a 26-year-old political science student, told Agence France-Presse, referring to the country's pension system that Mr Ortega planned on reforming.

"We believe there is no longer space for dialogue," he continued.

After their start last week, the protests intensified over the weekend as the student-led demonstrators appeared to gain the support of neighbourhoods where angry residents came out of their homes to bang kitchen pots and voice their concerns with deteriorating living conditions and government corruption. Demonstrators also erected barricades of burning tyres in the streets, while mobs broke into and looted shops in certain areas.

Mr Ortega has deployed the army in response to the demonstrations, and has sought to silence independent media. Pro-government demonstrators have also been mobilised.

The violence apparently caught the international community by surprise, and many denounced the violence. The United States joined in those voices, and urged Mr Ortega's government to allow journalists to do their jobs. At least one journalist has been killed in the violence.

Mr Ortega had previously agreed to holding talks with the country's private sector, but has been rebuffed by leaders in that community who say they cannot discuss the issue unless Mr Ortega's government "immediately ceases police repression".

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