Managua (AFP) - A rights group in Nicaragua on Thursday called on President Daniel Ortega to disband paramilitary groups accused of killing, torturing and kidnapping anti-government protesters.
The head of the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights, Alvaro Leiva, told a news conference that if Ortega wanted to prove his assertion that the paramilitaries were not under government control, "he should step up to guarantee citizens' right to security."
In interviews this week with US and Venezuelan television networks, Ortega denied persistent allegations that the armed and masked paramilitary gunmen seen operating in coordination with police were under his government's command.
Each time he was asked about the armed groups, Ortega switched attention to anti-government militias he accused the opposition of running with US funding, accusing them of killing dozens of police officers.
Three months of unrest in Nicaragua have claimed more than 300 lives, according to rights groups.
Protesters demanding Ortega step down have been countered with repression by police and paramilitaries firing live ammunition.
Ortega said on Monday that he believed that the "turmoil has stopped" and "matters are becoming more normal" in the country, one of Latin America's poorest.
But since then, at least four more people have been killed, including a Brazilian medical student, and Leiva said "citizens are in a deep state of fear" over actions by the paramilitaries.
The Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights alleged anti-riot units and government shock troops were among the members of the paramilitary squads, which went around masked and armed.