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U.S. sanctions Nicaragua police force for human rights abuses

U.S. sanctions Nicaragua police force for human rights abuses
Anti-riot agents prevent the passage of a protest demanding justice for the young people killed in the past demonstrations, in Managua, Nicaragua, May 2, 2018. Photo by Jorge Torres/EPA-EFE

March 6 (UPI) -- The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on the Nicaraguan National Police, accusing the law enforcement agency of committing human rights abuses amid ongoing pro-democracy protests.

Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin announced the sanctions Thursday, accusing Nicaragua's leftist president, Daniel Ortega, in a statement of using the police force as a tool in his "campaign of violent repression against the Nicaraguan people."

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"The Treasury is committed to holding accountable those who seek to silence pro-democracy voices in Nicaragua," he said.

Anti-government protests erupted in the Central American nation in April 2018 in response to an increase in taxes and cuts to pensions. The protests quickly turned violent and some 100 people were killed during its first six weeks. By the end of 2019, at least 328 people were killed, primarily at the hands of state security forces, and more than 2,000 were injured, according to Amnesty International.

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The Treasury accused the NNP using live ammunition against protesters, participating in death squads and conducting extrajudicial killings, disappearances and kidnappings. The federal agency highlighted the NNP's alleged killing of 100 people during a July 2018 operation to crack down on protesters.

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Three NNP commissioners -- Juan Valle Valle, Luis Alberto Perez Olivas and Justo Pastor Urbina -- were also blacklisted for their involvement as senior officials.

All assets of the three NNP commissioners and the police force are blocked and U.S. citizens are prohibited from conducting business with them under the sanctions imposed Thursday. Those currently working with the NPP have until May 6 to "wind down" their transactions, the State Department said.

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"The United States urges the Ortega regime to immediately stop repressing the Nicaraguan people, respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and allow the conditions for free and fair elections and the restoration of democracy in Nicaragua," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

The Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control previously sanctioned NNP officials, including Deputy Director General Ramon Antonio Avellan Medal in November 2019 and Director General Francisco Javier Diaz Madriz in 2018.

Nicaraguan Vice President Rosario Murillo De Ortega, who is also the first lady, was sanctioned by the Trump administration in November 2018 for corruption and human rights abuses.

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