Nicaraguan police and paramilitary groups loyal to President Daniel Ortega killed at least 10 people on Sunday, a human rights association said, as the death toll from violent clashes in the Central American country continues to rise.
The people were killed when government forces attacked the community of Monimbo and nearby city of Masaya, about 25 kilometers (16 miles) southeast of the capital, Managua, said Alvaro Leiva of the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights.
“We are talking about more than 10 deaths at this time,” Leiva told a local television station.
“This is a preliminary report,” Leiva said, adding that the names and ages of the deceased were still being investigated.
“There are sharpshooters located in different parts of the city. We ask the citizens to take shelter in their homes.”
Leiva addressed an urgent call for help to the bishops of the Episcopal Conference, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
IACHR chief Paulo Abrao said on Twitter that he was aware of the violent repression of towns in Masaya.
The government, he added, seemed to be ignoring the dialogue with the opposition.
Residents and rights groups had earlier said that troops used mechanical shovels in the early hours of the day to clear barricades in at least three areas.
“They are going to destroy Masaya, it is absolutely surrounded,” Vilma Nunez, president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), said.
“We are being attacked by the National Police and paramilitarie s armed with AK-47s and machine guns in our indigenous neighborhood of Monimbo,” said Alvaro Gomez, a resident. “We are resisting with homemade bombs and stones.”
Nearly three months of clashes between pro-Ortega forces and demonstrators calling for his removal have claimed over 300 lives, in the bloodiest protests in Nicaragua since the country’s civil war ended in 1990.
On Saturday, bishops secured the release of dozens of student protesters trapped overnight inside a church under a hail of gunfire from armed pro-government supporters, who killed at least one person inside, a human rights group said.
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.
Student leader Lester Aleman, who is among the protesters spearheading the demand for Ortega to step down, told reporters that he wanted a “halt to the repression.”
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.