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U.S., European Diplomats Urge Nicaragua's President To Speak With Opposition Groups

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Senior U.S. diplomats and European lawmakers have been in Nicaragua this week as the political situation there grows even worse. More than 300 people have been killed and hundreds more imprisoned since a crackdown on opponents of President Daniel Ortega began in April. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports from the Nicaraguan capital, Managua.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Dozens of armed riot police lined the large traffic circles here in the capital. The busy intersections have been a popular gathering spot for demonstrations which have been prohibited without a police permit. Police have also been staged along the main road leading to a hotel where the delegation of European Union legislators have been listening to civic leaders and political opponents.

Earlier this week, Nicaragua's powerful business chamber, COSEP, along with the American Chamber of Commerce and a local economic think tank requested a demonstration permit. While they weren't surprised the request was denied, the reason police gave them and broadcast on national TV and radio stunned them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Nicaragua's head of police accused the business leaders who for years had been staunch allies of President Daniel Ortega of using diabolical violence, terror and fear to overthrow the government. COSEP head Jose Adan Aguerri says he has heard the government accuse opponents and protesters of being so-called coup plotters before, but he says he believes this is the first time he personally and others in the business community have publicly been accused of the same.

JOSE ADAN AGUERRI: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "If they have something against us, then prove it. Charge us. We are here and not going anywhere," says Aguerri. Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans have fled the country since Ortega launched a crackdown here, jailing hundreds of protesters, political opponents and reporters. Two prominent journalists have been jailed for more than a month after police stormed their cable news outlet, destroying property and confiscating equipment. The two were supposed to be in court today to hear the evidence against them, but their case was postponed.

Senior U.S. State Department officials did meet with Ortega this week according to a statement on the U.S. Embassy's website. The officials say their mission was to find a peaceful solution to Nicaragua's current crisis and a return to democracy and human rights protections. No further information was provided. An email seeking comment from Nicaragua's vice president, Rosario Murillo, Ortega's wife, was returned with only gracias in its content. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Managua, Nicaragua. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.