July 15 (UPI) — A standoff between Nicaraguan pro-government forces and protesters barricaded overnight inside a church has left at least one student dead, religious leaders said Saturday.
Protesters participated in a national strike against President Daniel Ortega on Friday. The Central American country has been the site of at-times violent protests since April as the opposition seeks the president’s resignation and a return to democracy. More than 300 people have died since the beginning of the revolt.
Hundreds of students against Ortega have been occupying the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua since May, setting up barricades around the campus to keep troops out.
On Friday, at least 150 people, including students, religious leaders, doctors and journalists, barricaded themselves inside the Divine Mercy Catholic Church in Managua near the university campus. At least three people inside the church were injured, said Paulo Abrao, an official with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference said one young man died from a bullet to the head from Nicaraguan forces.
Forces kept the civilians trapped in the church overnight, allowing a convoy of ambulances to take the injured to the hospital late Friday.
“We were told that there were two dead and several wounded,” said Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes who attempted to mediate the crisis.
In May, Amnesty International accused the Nicaraguan government of using a “lethal strategy” against protesters, condemning alleged extrajudicial killings since the start of the revolt.
“The Nicaraguan authorities have turned on their own people in a vicious, sustained and frequently lethal assault on their rights to life, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International. “The government of President Ortega has then shamelessly tried to cover up these atrocities, violating the victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparation.”