The grandmother of Jose Esteban Sevilla Medina, who died after he was shot in the chest at a barricade during an attack by the police and paramilitary forces, cries during his burial in Masaya, Nicaragua, Monday, July 16, 2018. Tensions in Nicaragua erupted this spring after the government announced cuts to social security but then widened into a call for President Daniel Ortega to leave power. The crisis has left around 270 dead and more than 2,000 wounded as forces loyal to the government crack down on opponents. (AP Photo/Cristobal Venegas)

Families bury the dead after bloody weekend in Nicaragua

July 16, 2018 - 6:38 pm

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Families began burying the dead Monday following a bloody weekend in Nicaragua as police and paramilitary groups attacked roadblocks set up by anti-government demonstrators demanding President Daniel Ortega's exit from office.

The family and friends of 20-year-old university student Gerald Vasquez, one of two students killed Saturday when pro-government groups attacked the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua, carried his casket to a Managua cemetery, chanting "They were students, they weren't delinquents!"

Also Monday, the U.S. State Department condemned the continued violence.

"Every additional victim of this violence and intimidation campaign further undermines Ortega's legitimacy," said spokeswoman Heather Nauert. "Early free, fair and transparent elections are the best path back to democracy and respect for human rights in Nicaragua."

At least 10 people were shot dead Sunday in incidents around the country. Alvaro Leiva, director of the Nicaraguan Pro-Human Rights Association, said more than 20 were also wounded in Sunday's violence in several cities south of Managua, the capital.

In the Monimbo neighborhood of Masaya, "the attacks have not ceased and the city is closed," Leiva said. "Nobody can get in or out."

In the municipality of Nindiri, on the outskirts of Masaya, Roman Catholic Bishop Abelardo Mata of the Esteli archdiocese was attacked as he was traveling in a car to a funeral.

Roberto Petray, a friend of the priest, told the news channel 100% Noticias that Mata was forced from the vehicle by assailants who broke its windows and punctured its tires.

Images broadcast by the channel showed supporters of Ortega's Sandinista Front movement during the incident.

"The bishops support the coup d'etat that is desired against the government," an unidentified person yelled as others bashed the car's windows.

Managua auxiliary Bishop Silvio Baez tweeted later that Mata, who sought safety in a nearby home, was not in danger.

It was the third attack in a week on Catholic officials, who have been mediating stalled talks on finding a peaceful solution to the standoff and have criticized Ortega's government over the killings.

In a weekend statement, Nicaragua's Episcopal Conference reiterated its call for peace.

"The attacks perpetrated by the National Police, by pro-government paramilitary groups and mobs incited to attack and sow terror among the people protesting civically are condemnable judicially and morally," the religious body said in a statement.

The Sandinista-allied news portal 19 Digital published photos of highways that it said had been "liberated" of roadblocks, adding that "the people can circulate with tranquility and security to go about their daily activities."

Protesters have maintained the blockades for weeks to pressure Ortega, who has rejected demands for early elections and calls those seeking his exit "coup mongers."

The government says more than 200 people have been killed since the unrest began April 19, but independent rights groups say the number is higher.

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