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Nicaragua Clamping Down On Anti-Government Activity

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To Nicaragua now, where it has been nearly six months since political turmoil erupted. Protests against proposed changes to social security pensions morphed into a full-scale revolt against the government of President Daniel Ortega. The government recently declared protest illegal, and now it is clamping down hard on anti-government activity. Maria Martin reports.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Spanish).

MARIA MARTIN, BYLINE: On Sunday, a new opposition coalition called the Unidad Nacional Azul y Blanco, the Blue-and-White National Unity, gathered on the Camino al Oriente in Managua for a march to demand government reforms, calling for the Ortega government to return to the national dialogue. The group was relatively small, as the repression against protests has been increasing.

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MARTIN: Still, hundreds of heavily armed SWAT team forces showed up and dragged protesters on the ground and shoved them onto police trucks, as a video taken at the event shows. Reports say at least four dozen were arrested. Many were well-known activists and civil society leaders.

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MARTIN: Meanwhile, at the Augusto Sandino Airport, two well-known Nicaraguan human rights leaders, Haydee Castillo and Lottie Cunningham, were pulled off their planes and detained by immigration authorities. The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights reported Castillo was taken to the prison known as El Chipote, where many political prisoners are held and where there have been reports of torture. After being interrogated, Cunningham was allowed back on her flight.

The political turmoil of the last six months has left the population in terror and its economy in shambles. One Nicaraguan, a small business owner, is too scared to go to the protests and would only identify herself as Coco for fear of retribution.

COCO: You know, what is happening now is anybody who is opposing just by words, just expressing that they disagree with the government, they can be threatened and put in jail. They're organizing by neighborhoods to threaten people around. It's really tough now.

MARTIN: The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, condemned the repression. Human rights groups say at least 300 Nicaraguans have been killed and many more injured, the majority by government forces, since this country's political turbulence began on the 18 of April. For NPR News, I'm Maria Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.