At least 10 people, including a young girl, were killed in Nicaragua after pro-government forces launched an operation in the country’s south, a rights group has said.
The Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH) said that six civilians and four riot police officers died on Sunday in the city of Masaya, as well as in the nearby Niquinohomo and Catarina communities and the Monimbo neighbourhood.
Among the dead was a 10-year-old girl who was shot in the stomach and died due to a lack of medical attention, ANPDH head Alvaro Leiva said.
“There are sharpshooters located in different parts of the city,” Leiva added as he urged citizens to take shelter in their homes.
Government-backed paramilitary forces started the operation in and around the opposition stronghold of Masaya to clear protesters’ barricades.
Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa reported that hooded men arrived in Toyota Hiluxes with mechanical shovels and started firing shots.
“We are being attacked by the National Police and paramilitaries armed with AK-47s and machine guns in our indigenous neighbourhood of Monimbo,” Masaya resident Alvaro Gomez told AFP news agency.
“We are resisting with homemade bombs and stones.”
In a statement on Sunday, Nicaraguan police said that one police officer was kidnapped, tortured and killed by “terrorist groups, who stay in trenches in the city of Masaya”. They did not comment on the other deaths reported by ANPDH.
Antonia Urrejola, the Nicaragua rapporteur for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), said in a tweet that she was aware of “violent repression” in and around Masaya.
“The state seems to ignore the dialogue. Nicaragua must guarantee people’s lives and respect the due legal process,” she said.
@CIDH toma conocimiento de represión violenta a las poblaciones de Masaya, Niquinohomo, Catarina, Diriomo y Diria, con heridos y detenidos. El Estado parece ignorar el diálogo. #Nicaragua debe garantizar la vida de las personas y respetar el debido proceso legal.
— Antonia Urrejola (@totonia68) July 15, 2018
The violence came a day after 200 university students were freed from a besieged church in the capital Managua.
The students of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN) had been trapped inside the church by gunfire coming from pro-government groups.
Two students were killed and dozens more wounded in the violence.
Nicaragua has entered its third month of political unrest. Protests broke out in April over now-scrapped pension reforms and have since expanded into general opposition to President Daniel Ortega and his government.
Protesters are demanding the resignation of Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, whom they accuse of establishing a dictatorship characterised by nepotism and brutal repression.
Rights groups have accused security forces and groups loyal to the government of using “lethal force” to crack down on the protests.
More than 280 people, the vast majority of them civilians, have been killed in the violence, according to rights groups.
On Wednesday, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said the death toll stood at 264. Since Thursday, at least 19 people have been killed, according to local rights groups.
Last week, Ortega rejected calls for his resignation, telling thousands of supporters that protesters demanding he leave office should “seek the vote of the people” if they want to govern.