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Nicaragua leader says contentious reforms can change

Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega delivers a speech next to his wife and Vice President Rosario Murillo in the capital, Managua, Nicaragua, November 5, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has expressed readiness to review the pension reforms that have sparked days of deadly protests in the Central American country since they were approved last week.

The 72-year-old leader called for peaceful talks to resolve the crisis in the country on Saturday, saying that his government was ready to consider changing the unpopular social security legislation that increases pension contributions for workers and employers and reduces overall benefits.

Ortega said in a televised address that the benefit changes were not due to go into effect until July 1, giving the government and the private sector time to negotiate.

“If in the talks we find a better way of carrying out these reforms, this decree can be amended or replaced by a new one,” Ortega said on national television. “Maybe we can find ways of covering part of what is being applied to workers and especially to pensioners.”

Ortega also censured right-wing opposition groups in Nicaragua for “conspiring” against his government with the support of “the most extreme political groups in the United States.”

“They (the opposition) go with destabilization plans to these groups and they (the groups) finance them,” Ortega said.

The reforms, in their current form, will have employees contribute seven percent of their salary to social security, up from a current 6.25 percent, and increase employers’ contributions to 22.5 percent from a current 19 percent over two years. Pensioners will also have five percent of their pension taken out to be used for medical expenses.

The changes to the pension system are aimed at shoring up Nicaragua’s social security system but have been met with strong opposition from the public.

Students clash with riot police officers during protests against government reforms in the Institute of Social Security (INSS) in Managua, Nicaragua, on April 21, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

On Wednesday, Nicaraguan pensioners took to the streets in the capital, Managua, to vent their anger at the changes, and were joined the next day by thousands of students and workers.

Vice President Rosario Murillo, who is Ortega’s wife, told local media that “almost 10” people had been killed in clashes between police and protesters. At least 28 police officers have been injured, she added.

Nicaragua’s powerful business association, COSEP, has released a statement saying that it will not enter into talks until the government puts a stop to alleged police repression.

Independent TV stations and local media say they have either been taken off the air or banned after broadcasting the demonstrations live.

Journalist killed as protests flare in Nicaragua

Meanwhile, a Nicaraguan journalist, identified as Angel Eduardo Gaona, was fatally shot late Saturday as he was covering the riots in the city of Bluefields, on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, local media reported.

“We believe a sniper fired the shot, it wasn’t the young people... The only people who were armed were the police and riot police,” his colleague Ileana Lacayo claimed in remarks to television station Canal 15.

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