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Nicaragua’s Ortega says he will restart talks with opponents

FILE - In this Sept. 5, 2018 file photo, Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, lead a rally in Managua, Nicaragua. Despite the new Feb. 1, 2019 tax rises, Nicaragua has not seen a repeat of last year’s mass protests. And it seems unlikely to, since Ortega forcefully quashed the challenge to his power, including effectively outlawing opposition demonstrations since September. (AP Photo/Alfredo Zuniga, File)

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said Thursday he will restart talks with his opponents, seven months after the last round of dialogue broke down and the government unleashed a round of arrests.

Ortega said he hopes to start the new round of talks Wednesday, though he didn’t say who might attend.

The president said he wants to “install a negotiating table to consolidate peace, a new path to improve conditions” in the Central American nation.

The previous round, from May 16 to July 9, was attended by student, business and civic groups organized in the Civic Alliance. Many of the leaders of the 2018 protests that led to the talks have been arrested or gone into hiding or exile.

Ortega said the talks “will not be with that crowd,” referring to the alliance.

The Civic Alliance said in a statement that it planned to participate in the talks and that it had four initial demands, the first of which would be the freeing of “political prisoners.”

Azahalea Solis, one of the alliance’s proposed delegation, estimates at least 770 government opponents have been imprisoned.

The alliance is also demanding freedom of speech, after government raids on media outlets. Opponents also want freedom to hold protests, which the government has effectively banned since September.

Opponents also want electoral reform, after Ortega effectively co-opted courts and electoral bodies, and justice for those who died during last year’s protests. More than 300 people have been killed since the protests began in mid-April triggered by cuts to the social security system.

The previous talks were mediated by the Roman Catholic Church. The talks broke down over the government’s demand that protesters remove about 140 highway blockades. The government later violently cleared the roadblocks.

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