Catholic bishops on Saturday, July 14, secured the release of dozens of Nicaraguan student protesters trapped overnight inside in a church under a hail of gunfire from armed pro-government supporters, who killed at least one person inside, a human rights group said.
The students took refuge inside the Divine Mercy Catholic Church on Friday after gunmen loyal to President Daniel Ortega began shooting at them at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN) in Managua, prompting fresh criticism of the violent crackdown against opposition to his rule.
Paulo Abrao of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said on Twitter that at least one youth had died in the church and three people were injured. The mother of a woman who spent the night in the church told Reuters that one student had died.
Nearly three months of clashes between pro-Ortega forces and demonstrators calling for his ouster have claimed almost 300 lives, in the bloodiest protests in Nicaragua since the country's civil war ended in 1990
The mother who reported a death said the students spent the night crouched on the church floor fearing for their lives as the gunmen fired shots that ricocheted inside the church.
A delegation of Nicaragua's Catholic bishops negotiated the transfer of the students to Managua's metropolitan cathedral, where they were receiving medical care. The government could not immediately be reached for comment.
Sending the students home could expose them to more attacks, said Gonzalo Carrion of Nicaragua's Center for Human Rights.
Nicaragua has been convulsed by unrest since April, when Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla leader, proposed reducing pension benefits to ease budgetary pressures. Though the plan was later dropped, it provoked violent clashes and calls for Ortega to step down.
A nationwide strike emptied streets on Friday as businesses shut their doors, heeding calls by civil society groups who want Ortega to resign and stage early elections.
Throughout the day on Friday, television showed deserted streets in Managua and much of the rest of the country while Ortega and his entourage attended a traditional march in the legendary revolutionary stronghold of Masaya, the city from which rebels launched an attack on dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979.
In brief remarks, Ortega said he lamented the crisis and offered to hold talks with opponents of his government. Ortega, a Cold War-era U.S. foe, is serving his third consecutive term which runs until 2021.
Representatives of civil society organizations have called for early elections to end the impasse, while Ortega's top diplomat dismissed the possibility on Friday during a session of the Organization of American States in Washington.