Nicarguan youth sit behind a barricated with homemade mortars as they fight the government.

Demonstrators stand behind a barricade during a protest against Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega's government in Managua, Nicaragua, May 30, 2018.

Credit:

Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters

Nicaragua's main business lobby urged President Daniel Ortega to hold early elections to steer the country out of weeks of destabilizing protests, which again sparked deadly clashes on Wednesday, a human rights groups and local media said.

In a letter to Ortega published on Twitter, business association COSEP urged the 72-year-old president to bring forward the next vote at a date to be agreed between the government and representatives of civic society.

"Given the magnitude of this crisis, we urge you to undertake every effort in your power to find a peaceful solution before we find ourselves immersed in an even more tragic situation," the letter said.

The next presidential election is scheduled for 2021.

Ortega told supporters that Nicaragua "is not private property" in response to the COSEP demand, according to local newspaper La Prensa.

Proposed changes to Nicaragua's social security system last month triggered student-led protests and violent clashes.

Violence continues

Nicaraguan police have used lethal force against protesters, aiming for heads, necks and chests, Amnesty International said on Tuesday in the second of two international reports condemning President Daniel Ortega's response to dissent.

At least 81 people have been killed and 868 wounded since April 18, according to the rights group, in violence "characterized by the excessive use of force, extrajudicial executions, control of the media and the use of pro-government armed groups."

Published after days of resurgent violence, the report adds five to the preliminary death count announced last week by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights following an investigation sourced in hundreds of complaints.

"The strategy for repression appears to have been directed from the highest levels of government," Amnesty International said in a statement. "President Daniel Ortega and Vice-President Rosario Murillo repeatedly demonized demonstrators and denied they were being killed."

Ortega, an ally of socialist Venezuela, has resisted protesters' demands that he resign over the killings. His government also rejected a suggestion by the Organization of American States that it call early elections.

Clashes this week included an armed attack apparently by pro-government groups on a university campus and witnessed by Amnesty International's America's director Erika Guevara-Rosa.

The report, based on a visit to Nicaragua in early May and delivered by Nicaraguan rights activist Bianca Jagger, also documented irregularities in the way authorities investigated deaths, including the cases of two people whose families were forced to sign waivers in hospital denying them a right to autopsies as a condition of receiving official death certificates.

Local media said there were more casualties in Nicaragua on Wednesday, after a march in the capital Managua, organized as a demonstration against the recent deaths, came under fire.

One man died and other people were injured after shots were fired on marchers, said Marlin Sierra, director of the local human rights organization CENIDH. Three other people also died in violence in the northwest of the country, Sierra said.

It was not immediately clear who had fired on the march. La Prensa blamed the attack on supporters of Ortega.

Guevara-Rosas said on Twitter that Ortega's "violent repression has reached extreme levels" after the attack.

A Cold War antagonist of the United States who served a single term as president during the 1980s, Ortega returned to power in 2007. He was re-elected by a landslide for a third consecutive term in 2016 with his wife as vice president.

The Organization of American States last week called for early elections, but Ortega has not acceded.

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