Clashes after Nicaragua's opposition broadens anti-Ortega coalition

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Riot police deploy in Managua after Nicaraguan opposition parties called for a protest against the government of President Daniel Ortega

Nicaragua's opposition parties on Tuesday broadened their coalition against the government of President Daniel Ortega to include right-wing parties and former Contra rebels ahead of elections set for next year.

Shortly afterward, riot police deployed in several parts of the capital to break up a series of lightning anti-government protests by opposition supporters.

Police assaulted protesters and journalists as they broke up a demonstration at Metrocentro shopping plaza in central Managua and outside a Catholic church in the city.

"About a hundred police officers went to the Metrocentro shopping center, beating and pushing everyone," said an AFP photographer whose camera was damaged.

Several people were arrested.

Police also attacked a protest at the Divine Mercy church, according to Willy Narvaez, a reporter with Channel 10 private TV, who said the tires of his car were deliberately punctured.

"There were patrols full of riot police and people dressed in civilian clothes operating with the government," he said.

Protester Oscar Rosales told a human rights NGO he had been briefly arrested at the scene and "kicked in the ribs."

"They took me for about 15 minutes, they put a rifle in my mouth and told me there were going to kill me."

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said on Twitter it was "aware of a police operation to prevent" protests, adding that opposition leaders' homes had been placed under surveillance.

- United front -

Officials from seven parties formally signed the agreement forming a "national coalition" against leftist Ortega's 13-year rule.

"These seven organizations are taking the initial step of shaping the National Coalition to rebuild democracy," according to a statement read by one of the leaders, former political prisoner Yubrank Suazo.

The ruling Sandinista party has not ruled out the possibility of Ortega standing for a fourth consecutive term.

Critics accuse Ortega -- a former rebel hero who has been in power since 2007 -- of running a repressive dictatorship whose crackdown on protests in 2018 left at least 300 people dead, according to rights groups.

The demonstrations, initially over a social security scheme, broadened into a nationwide protest against the rule of Ortega, who also led Nicaragua in the 1980s.

"It was a rebellion against the collapse of social security, corruption, the abuse of power and nepotism," the new coalition said in a statement.

The coalition includes prominent opposition groups including the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy (ACJD) and the Blue and White National Unit (UNAB), which emerged after the 2018 anti-government protests.

It also includes a peasant movement formed to fight a canal project, as well as the Yatama indigenous party.

The Nicaraguan Democratic Force, a group of Contra ex-combatants who fought Ortega's Sandinistas in the 1980s, has also joined the coalition to oust him.

"Today is a historic day because we have signed a firm commitment of unity -- it is the birth certificate of the National Coalition," said opposition leader Carlos Tunnermann.

He said "the doors are open" for other parties to join forces with the coalition.

"We are waiting for you with open arms because right now, what this country is asking for is unity," he said.

Ortega's wife Rosario Murillo, who is also vice-president, blasted the opposition for its "insolence and criminal machinations" in a statement on Monday.