Nicaragua crisis death toll rises as bishops await word from Ortega

©Agence France-Presse

An anti-government demonstrator fires a homemade mortar during clashes with riot police at a barricade in the town of Masaya

Managua (AFP) - The death toll resulting from Nicaragua's escalating crisis rose over the weekend to at least 139, according to a top rights group.

Opposition activist Juan Gutierrez, age 28, died during an attack on a barricade he was fighting to defend in the municipality of Sebaco, about 90 kilometers north of the capital, the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) said.

A university coalition attributed the attack to government-backed gangs along with anti-riot police.

Silvio Romero, vicar of Managua's cathedral, told reporters Sunday the Catholic Church continues to await a response from President Daniel Ortega concerning a proposal from bishops to revive talks to calm the crisis, which sparked April 18.

"We have no communication" with Ortega, Romero said. "All the people are waiting for an answer."

"But people are beginning to say that while waiting for a written answer, there is already an answer on the streets," the vicar said, alluding to the continued repression of protests against Ortega's leftist government.

The police, meanwhile, said that "armed criminal groups" attacked a police outpost in the municipality of El Jicaral, 140 kilometers northwest of Managua, and kidnapped three of its officers.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) wrote on Twitter that the Nicaraguan government reported the "disappearance" of the agents.

The CIDH voiced "concern" while saying "we urge that this situation be clarified."

On Sunday at least 127 makeshift roadblocks stood throughout the country, peasant leader Francisca Ramirez said, a strategy protestors are using to try and pressure the government to find a concrete solution to the political chaos through dialogue.

In Managua, an opposition caravan toured several of the capital's neighborhoods urging people to organize their defense against paramilitary groups who activists say are roaming the streets and gunning down demonstrators on motorcycles and trucks.

The movement to push for Ortega from office has crossed international borders as Nicaraguans living abroad demonstrate in Madrid and other European capitals.

In the Spanish capital, protestors waved flags and held crosses in memory of those killed in the clashes, while chanting slogans demanding Ortega's ouster.

"As long as the dictator does not leave, we will not thrive," Marling Valverde, 45, told AFP in Madrid. "There is repression and there is no freedom of expression; it is a massacre against students."

Judith Martinez, a 35-year-old domestic worker, called watching the events from abroad "constant agony."