NICARAGUAN police have ended the siege of a church in Masaya that followed clashes with violent right-wing agitators at the weekend.
At least two people were killed and 20 injured in clashes as police tried to restore order after anti-government forces set up barricades and roadblocks across the city, which lies a dozen miles south of the capital Managua.
Local Catholic priest Edwin Roman and human rights lawyer Alvaro Leiva won praise for their role in calming the situation and mediating between the authorities and protesters who had fled into the church.
Pope Francis used his Sunday address to call for an end to escalating violence in Nicaragua and for a peaceful dialogue, offering prayers to the victims and families.
He said the church — which is mediating in government-initiated peace talks — was committed to dialogue, “but this requires an active commitment to respect freedom and, above all, life. I pray that all the violence ceases and conditions are put in place to resume talks as soon as possible.”
Protests began in April after the Sandinista government introduced new social security reforms, but demonstrations appear to have been hijacked by right-wing elements to foment regime change.
In a statement last week the United States government, which boasts a long and bloody history of intervention to remove progressive governments across the region, threatened action against Nicaragua “if the Ortega regime fails to co-operate.”
President Daniel Ortega withdrew the reforms and initiated a “national dialogue” that has the support of broad layers of society including the trade unions, Nicaragua’s student union, the Catholic Church and a range of civil society groups.
But a small group, largely consisting of students, remains opposed to the talks and has instead engaged in deadly violence, setting up roadblocks across the country, endangering lives and damaging the Nicaraguan economy.
In violent attacks last week, armed right-wing groups torched government buildings and attacked a Sandinista Mother’s Day rally, killing more than 20 people.
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