The Nicaraguan government of President Daniel Ortega and opposition have restarted long-stalled talks on resolving the country’s political crisis, following the release of dozens of people who had been arrested in anti-government protests last year.
The meeting between the two sides was held behind closed doors in the south of the capital, Managua, on Wednesday. Mediated by the Catholic Church, the talks lasted for about seven hours and will continue on Thursday.
The talks were aimed at easing tensions that began last April with deadly protests over the government’s now-abandoned pension reform.
According to photos released by the opposition, the government was represented by six prominent officials, including the Nicaraguan foreign minister, a magistrate, and several lawmakers.
The Vatican’s representative in Nicaragua, Stanislaw Waldemar Sommertag, told reporters that the two sides had agreed to nine of the 12 points on a preliminary “road map” for the talks, without providing further details.
The opposition has accused Ortega, in power since 2007, of establishing a corrupt dictatorship with his wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo.
During the anti-government protests last year, the opposition called on Ortega to step down and bring forward presidential elections, which prompted a crackdown by security forces and armed pro-government civilian groups.
The violence left at least 325 people dead, 2,000 others wounded, and more than 750 arrested, according to human rights groups.
The Nicaraguan president has vehemently dismissed culpability for the deaths of the protesters, accusing the United States and opposition parties of fomenting the unrest in an effort to topple his government.
The previous round of peace peace talks broke down last May.
One of the opposition’s primary demands was the release of the estimated 770-plus people regarded as political prisoners jailed for participating in demonstrations.
Political prisoners freed before talks
The Wednesday meeting was held a few hours after the Nicaraguan Interior Ministry announced in a statement that 100 imprisoned protesters had been conditionally released.
Photos released on social media showed busloads of jubilant inmates leaving the La Modela prison outside Managua, waving Nicaraguan flags, and singing the country’s national anthem.
Human rights organizations said no major opposition leaders were among the detainees and that about 670 opponents still remained in prison.
Political tensions have exacerbated Nicaragua’s economic crisis, with a 315-million-dollar deficit. The country’s gross domestic product shrank four percent last year, and some economists say it could contract 11 percent in 2019.