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In Nicaragua Bishops summon government, civil leaders aiming to revive talks

Nicaragua's prominent bishops on Friday convened rival government and civil group representatives to discuss reviving talks aimed at ending a spiraling crisis that's now left at least 162 dead.

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Calls for the ouster of President Daniel Ortega -- a major force in Nicaraguan politics for the better part of 40 years -- along with his wife and vice president Rosario Murillo are growing increasingly vehement play

Calls for the ouster of President Daniel Ortega -- a major force in Nicaraguan politics for the better part of 40 years -- along with his wife and vice president Rosario Murillo are growing increasingly vehement

(AFP)

Nicaragua's prominent bishops on Friday convened rival government and civil group representatives to discuss reviving talks aimed at ending a spiraling crisis that's now left at least 162 dead.

The Central American country's Catholic clergy had earlier this week scheduled the 10:00 am (1600 GMT) meeting, at which they were to present their mediation proposal as well as embattled President Daniel Ortega's long-awaited response.

The previous evening, Nicaragua's Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) had raised to 162 the toll since anti-government protests broke out two months ago.

At least four people were killed -- including a 15-year old altar boy -- on Thursday, when armed paramilitaries and pro-government gangs attacked activists guarding demonstrators in the cities of Leon, Nagarote, Masatepe and Tipitapa, according to the CENIDH.

Ortega-backed repression appeared to spike throughout the country during Thursday's national 24-hour strike called by the National Alliance for Justice and Democracy, a coalition of students, entrepreneurs and other civil leaders.

"Ortega continues with his criminal policy against the people of Nicaragua, because he doesn't want to leave power even though people are asking him to leave," Azhalea Solis, a representative of the coalition, told AFP.

Delegates from that group will go to Friday's meeting, which Ortega's Foreign Minister Denis Moncada was also to attend.

The church previously called off talks with Ortega after a march led by victims' mothers turned deadly at the hands of Ortega-backed forces last month.

Nicaragua's descent into chaos was triggered on April 18 when relatively small protests against now-scrapped social security reforms were met with a government crackdown.

Those demonstrations mushroomed into a popular uprising that has seen activists brandishing homemade mortars and slingshots clash violently with anti-riot police and pro-Ortega paramilitaries.

Calls for the ouster of the leftist leader -- a major force in Nicaraguan politics for the better part of 40 years -- along with his wife and vice president Rosario Murillo are growing increasingly vehement.

Many activists are demanding expediting the next presidential election set for late 2021 in a bid to oust Ortega, who has remained steadfast in his desire to maintain power.

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