Nicaraguan opposition calls for 24-hour strike

Opposition protesters are calling for President Daniel Ortega to step down and bring forward elections

Nicaragua's opposition called a 24-hour strike on Thursday, due to start the next day, in protest against President Daniel Ortega and to demand the release of "political prisoners."

The strike is due to begin at midnight on Thursday, the Civil Alliance for Justice and Democracy, made up of students, businesses and civil service groups, said in a statement.

The opposition is demanding dialogue with Ortega's government after months of turmoil that left more than 300 people dead, according to rights groups.

It called on supporters to "join this national effort from your homes."

"Nicaragua needs an urgent and peaceful solution through dialogue," said the opposition.

"We need to live in security, without kidnappings, without political prisoners, without persecution and without the stigmatization of those who think differently."

Last week, Ortega expelled the United Nations human rights mission after it published a report criticizing the "climate of fear" in the Central American country, one of the poorest in the region.

The UN denounced a wide range of serious violations, including disproportionate use of force by police, which in some cases resulted in extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture.

Ortega, a former guerrilla leader who has been in power for the last 11 years, refuted the claims and described the UN as "an instrument of the policies of terror, lies and infamy."

In addition to the dead and 2,000 people injured in clashes between anti-government protesters and regime forces back by paramilitaries, more than 300 Nicaraguans have been charged with crimes for taking part in the protests, of which 85 are accused of terrorism.

Two Alliance leaders, Medardo Mairena and Edwin Carcache, are amongst those to have been charged.

The opposition says "dialogue is the only path" to overcome the current political crisis.

Nicaragua's descent into chaos was triggered on April 18 when relatively small protests against now-scrapped social security reforms were met with a government crackdown, backed by armed paramilitaries.

Catholic church-brokered peace talks broke down in June after Ortega rejected a key opposition demand to step down and bring forward presidential elections.

Opposition supporters claimed the last strike in mid-July was 90 percent respected, although government media said businesses had remained open in several trade zones.