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Threat of sanctions prompts Nicaragua to release 700 political prisoners

By Nicholas Sakelaris
Threat of sanctions prompts Nicaragua to release 700 political prisoners
Young people carry a banner during a protest against the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. Photo by Jorge Torres/EPA-EFE

March 21 (UPI) -- Nicaragua could release more than 700 political prisoners over the next three months with human rights groups, the Red Cross and the Vatican as witnesses.

The prisoners have been jailed over the last year but the regime considered releasing them only after being pressured from the United States.

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"Thanks to the efforts of the apostolic nuncio, as a witness and companion, and the special delegate of the OAS, and given the positions reached, the negotiation process was resumed," government officials said in a statement.

Jose Adan Aguerri, a member of the Civic Alliance and president of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (Cosep), said they will work to make sure all the prisoners are released and their charges are dropped.

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"We want to clarify that it will be within a period of no more than 90 days," Aguerri said. "When we start negotiations, we will work (for the) annulment of their respective trials."

A total of 760 prisoners were arrested for protesting. More than 300 people have died in protests. The threat of additional sanctions from the United States prompted the government to change its mind and release the prisoners. A human rights report on Nicaragua will be given to Congress Thursday.

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President Daniel Ortega previously labeled the protesters as "common criminals" allegedly convicted of "terrorism, murder, organized crime" and others.

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National Security Adviser John Bolton said Ortega has a "double standard."

"He wants to avoid sanctions against his children and his officials, but he does not want to make concessions in the negotiations, such as freeing political prisoners and stopping the repression against civic protests," Bolton said. "Ortega's duplicity must stop. The United States denounces the repression of the Nicaraguan regime against peaceful protesters, violence against independent media and reluctance to yield to the demands of the Nicaraguan people. These actions are not going to go unanswered."

Nicaragua's next election is scheduled for 2021.

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