At least 14 people have been killed in Nicaragua during a reported raid by pro-government forces as protests against President Daniel Ortega continue unabated in the country.
Violence broke out on Friday after police used mechanical equipment to open roads barricaded by protesters in the Diriamba and Jinotepe areas, 20 kilometers from the opposition bastion of Masaya.
Videos filmed by residents and posted on social media showed unidentified armed men in black-hooded civilian clothes roaming in the area alongside police forces.
The assailants opened up access to over 350 cargo trucks stranded on the highway in Jinotepe for over a month amid the protests.
“This has been a horror. We have a minimum of 14 dead, but it could be more. That includes at least one anti-riot officer, one paramilitary member and two police officers,” Vilma Nunez, president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), told AFP.
“This looked like an occupation army. They wiped out all the barricades. There are more dead whose identities we have not been able to confirm. There are a lot of arrests and injuries. A disaster,” she added.
Police blamed “terrorists with firearms” for the deaths of two officers.
The protests were triggered in mid-April after a series of now-canceled changes were made to the Central American nation’s social security system.
The demonstrators are seeking the resignation of Ortega -- a former leftist guerrilla who came to power with the popular uprising that defeated dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, and retook the presidency in 2007 after a vote.
Activists accuse him -- together with his wife Vice President Rosario Murillo -- of establishing a dictatorship.
At least 220 people have so far been killed in the violence.
The Nicaraguan president has rejected opposition calls for early elections despite the ongoing agitations across the country.
The 72-year-old president, whose third consecutive term ends in January 2022, has refused to give in to his opponents’ demand of rescheduling the elections to an earlier date from 2021 to 2019.
‘US fishing in troubled waters’
In an interview with Press TV, Edward Corrigan, a Canada-based international human rights lawyer, said the bloody unrest in Nicaragua is the result of US provocations in those American states ruled by leftist politicians.
Washington, he said, is taking advantage of the history of rebellions against past dictatorships and governments in Nicaragua to overthrow the current administration in line with its own interests.
“We have a lot of outside agitation from the United States, and they use institutions like the National Endowment for Democracy and pour hundreds of millions of dollars” into the country to change a government, whose leftist policies do not serve Washington, he added.
“You see the same thing in Venezuela, the same thing in Bolivia and now Mexico has just elected a left-wing president, which is “a backlash against Donald Trump and the American policy.”