Nicaraguan protesters capture policeman, demand release of jailed activists

MANAGUA (Reuters) – Anti-government protesters in southern Nicaragua held a police officer captive for seven hours before he was set free on Monday, as they demanded the release of several youths they claimed had been arrested for opposing President Daniel Ortega.

The protests in the town of Esquipulas on Ometepe island were among many small demonstrations and social media campaigns across Nicaragua over the weekend marking the two-year anniversary of the start of rallies against Ortega’s government.

The clashes between pro-government forces and protesters left more than 300 people dead and prompted thousands to go into exile.

Henry Ruiz, the leader of an Ortega opposition movement in Ometepe who lives in Esquipulas, said several young people who took part in peaceful protests were arrested after waving flags in Nicaragua’s traditional colors that symbolize opposition to Ortega.

“The youths raised blue and white flags and the police came firing to stop them. They injured two and took five to jail,” Ruiz said in an interview. “The people are furious.”

Videos on social media on Sunday night showed a group of people with machetes and sticks, including women and young people, standing in a circle around a bloodied police officer sitting against stone wall, and calling for the release of the activist group.

Early on Monday, Nicaraguan authorities sent special troops to surround the community and freed the police officer.

Nicaragua’s police said in a statement that the officer had been beaten and taken to a residential home on Sunday after police apprehended a group of locals in what it called a “state of drunkenness.”

The U.S. government in March imposed sanctions on Nicaragua’s police over accusations of human rights abuses, including shooting at peaceful protesters and carrying out extrajudicial killings, disappearances and kidnappings.

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