Nicaragua deploys police to quell post-poll violence

Supporters of indigenous party "Yatama", who had refused to accept the results of the recent municipal elections, are dispersed with tear gas by police forces during protests in Bilwi, Nicaragua on November 7, 2017

Nicaragua's government deployed riot police to a remote town on its Caribbean coast on Wednesday to put down days of violence triggered by weekend local elections. The police presence aimed to quell confrontations between members of an indigenous party, Yatama, that refused to accept its loss of municipalities to the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which swept the polls across the country on Sunday, winning 68 percent of the vote. "There's a ton of police" in the town of Bilwi, one of Yatama's leaders, Elizabeth Henriquez, told AFP by telephone. "Two planes arrived full of anti-riot police," a lawyer for the non-governmental Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, Wendy Flores, told reporters. Officers patrolled the streets and stationed outside key buildings in the town, population 50,000. The unrest had caused shops and schools to close, a resident told AFP on condition of anonymity. A senior national police official, Francisco Diaz, on Tuesday accused Yatama sympathizers of "looting shops" in central Bilwi and burning two farms and forests ministry offices and the premises of two broadcasters. Yatama accused police of attacking protesters with tear gas and said three of its members were killed. Police acknowledged two deaths and 21 arrests. - 'Electoral farce' - In 2012 elections, Yatama won three municipalities along the Caribbean coast, where indigenous people are in the majority. According to the results from Sunday's polls, they lost all three. The unrest in Bilwi was the worst of several flareups reported in 13 different parts of the country following the elections. According to police, five people were killed in the violence, and 67 wounded. Nine homes and two public offices were torched, police said. The opposition said there were seven deaths. The Caribbean region is home to the Miskito people, a Native American ethnic group. The area was once colonized by the British, before it became part of Nicaragua in the 19th century. In the 1970s, the Miskitos rose up against the US-backed dictatorship at the time. Miskitos initially supported the Marxist-inspired Sandinista revolution fronted by current President Daniel Ortega, but then turned against it when its socialist policies threatened Miskito culture and language. Yatama emerged from a former Miskito rebel group that disbanded in 1989. In the past, it formed occasional alliances with Ortega's FSLN, but in the past five years relations, have been strained because of encroaching activities by non-indigenous Nicaraguans. Nicaragua's main opposition group, the Broad Front for Democracy, blamed the deadly unrest on Ortega, and claimed Sunday's municipal elections were marred by fraud. "What happened was an electoral farce," coalition leader Violeta Granera, told a news conference in the capital. She said 70 percent of eligible voters did not cast ballots, a figure much higher than the 48 percent given by the electoral tribunal.