Toll from Nicaragua unrest hits 264: rights body

Supporters of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega -- like these who broke into a basilica in an opposition heartland on July 9, 2018 and harassed Roman Catholic bishops -- have been blamed for much for the deadly violence

The known death toll from a four-month crackdown on anti-government protests in Nicaragua has risen to 264, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said Wednesday.

"As recorded by the IACHR since the start of the repression against social protests, to date, 264 people have lost their lives and more than 1,800 have been injured," the commission's chief Paulo Abrao told reporters.

He was speaking at a meeting of the Organization of American States -- of which the IACHR is part -- about the situation in the violence-wracked Central American country, where protesters are seeking the ouster of President Daniel Ortega.

The rights body had previously given a toll of 212 dead, although local estimates recently put the toll at about 250.

The influential Roman Catholic church has been mediating between Ortega's government and the opposition to end the unrest, but the process has become bogged down amid continuing violence.

In the latest outburst, at least 14 people died in a weekend raid by a pro-government mob near the opposition bastion of Masaya, in the country's southwest.

The opposition is planning to crank up the pressure on Ortega starting on Thursday with an anti-government protest and general strike.

Separately Wednesday, another human rights group charged the Nicaraguan army had been using military weapons against civilians in the crackdown against deadly unrest.

The Nicaraguan Pro-Human Rights Association (ANPDH) demanded that the armed forces investigate allegations that the military was overstepping in its use of grenade launchers and automatic weapons against civilian demonstrators.

A former leftist guerrilla, Ortega will next week commemorate the 1979 popular uprising that brought him to power with an annual July 19 march due to start in Masaya.

Once the hero of left-wing revolutionaries, Ortega is now widely viewed as an oppressor.

Having lost a presidential vote in 1990, he was re-elected in 2007 but opponents have accused him -- together with his wife Vice President Rosario Murillo -- of establishing a dictatorship characterized by nepotism and brutal repression.