Nicaragua has disputed election, massive protests

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega narrowly won re-election Sunday amid allegations of electoral fraud, and within hours, an estimated 6,000 people demonstrated in the streets of Managua in response to what they said was a campaign of violence and intimidation.

But Ortega said the election’s outcome was still too close to call, and the process continues to be contested.

The Nicaraguan Democratic Force, a political party allied with Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front, and its allies claimed to have called thousands of voters to prevent their ballots from being cast, and announced the results of a demonstration that began in front of the National Registry of Elections.

The opposition also accused Ortega’s Sandinista of intimidating voters and stealing about 6,000 votes in the eastern municipality of Orotenco, a stronghold of Ortega’s main opponent, former Sandinista guerrilla Daniel Ortega.

Ortega said this was an attempt to slow or stop his election, but supporters of the Sandinista chanted “Ángel, you destroyed this country! You destroyed this country!” in reference to the 81-year-old president.

Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo called Nicaragua’s electoral system the best in the world, and Ortega said the only thing standing in the way of Nicaragua’s future was the “petty political interest” of the opposition. Murillo said the electoral system would withstand judicial review.

Former foreign minister Carlos Daniel Muñiz and the National Front for Victory, an alliance of three small opposition parties, said that, although Ortega’s claimed partial victory, turnout and results show the president lost.

“In the streets, there were explosions and injuries. It was systematic and in the avenues the streets were barricaded,” Muñiz said at a news conference in front of the national electoral institute building in Managua.

Earlier in the day, dozens of protesters said they had been fired upon by the national police, and some had injuries. Ortega told Televicentro, a Nicaragua television station, that it was “normal in moments of tension.”

During the evening, the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, led by Muñiz, said in a statement that they called 6,000 voters, promising to ensure that “those who are afraid” could get out of the polling station.

A representative of the Nicaraguan national police said that the party was exaggerating and that there were no shootings by the police.

Near the office of the Nicaraguan electoral institute, an Associated Press photographer saw demonstrators throwing stones at the building. They also threw rocks at cars driving on the highway nearby, scattering them with debris.

Minutes after the announcement of results, in the city of Petare, which has seen unrest over the last year over economic policies that critics say have led to a sharp rise in food prices, several Sandinista supporters, as well as members of other political parties, marched to the city hall, chanting slogans such as “We want change.” They set up a megaphone and waved a campaign poster bearing Ortega’s image.

The Nicaraguan Independent Electoral Institute released preliminary results by 10 p.m. Sunday, estimating that Ortega’s socialist party will have 56 percent of the votes compared with 43 percent for Ortega’s presidential primary opponent, former Central Bank director Manuel Rosales.

Ortega is scheduled to speak to the electoral institute at 10 a.m. today.

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