Threatened bishop leaves Nicaragua for Vatican

Silvio Baez, the auxiliary bishop of Managua, claims he received "countless" death threats by telephone

A bishop who fiercely criticized Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's brutal crackdown on opposition protesters left the country Tuesday, having been recalled by the Vatican following death threats.

Silvio Baez, the auxiliary bishop of Managua, said before boarding a flight to Rome that he hoped Nicaragua will "one day come to have a society founded on social justice from which true peace will sprout, where ideological plurality is not a crime."

Baez has been a vocal critic of the leftist government since street protests broke out last April against Ortega's leadership, lasting four months.

A ferocious crackdown by the authorities left 325 people dead, hundreds in jail and thousands exiled.

The 60-year-old bishop was assaulted in July alongside other Catholic leaders by pro-government paramilitaries who broke into the Basilica of San Sebastian in Diriamba, in southwestern Nicaragua.

He said that same month the US embassy warned him they were "certain there was a plan" to kill him.

He claimed there were "continually drones around" his apartment and he had received "countless" death threats by telephone, forcing him to change his phone number four times in one year.

Pope Francis ordered him to return to Rome.

"I feel sad, my heart is heavy with pain for leaving Nicaragua but I leave serenely and in peace knowing that I will always be available to serve God and the church," he said at the airport as he was seen off by a group of supporters.