Catholic clergy were attacked trying to help those protesting recent killings.
“I’m OK, thank God,” Bishop Silvio Jose Baez tweeted. “The basilica is free and so are those who were inside.”
Bishop Baez, auxiliary bishop of Managua; Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes Solorzano of Managua, and Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, the apostolic nuncio, were among clergy from Managua attacked as they approached St. Sebastian Basilica in Diriamba, Catholic News Service reported. Along with Bishop Baez, at least one other priest was injured in the clashes with a pro-government mob. Journalists also were attacked and had cameras and other equipment stolen.
The bishops and clergy were trying to free anti-government protesters inside the church. A church delegation traveled to Diriamba to “show solidarity” with priests in the area after recent killings, Father Victor Rivas, executive secretary of the Nicaraguan bishops’ conference, told CNS.
Last week, the U.S. government ordered non-emergency government personnel to leave Nicaragua and advised travelers to reconsider going to the country.
At least 212 people have been killed in clashes in Nicaragua since April, according to a team of independent investigators. Demonstrations began in April over reforms to the social security system. The government has regarded protester’s demands, that President Daniel Ortega step down, as an attempted coup.
Talks aimed at resolving the crisis, particularly those sponsored by the Church, have repeatedly broken down.
The U.S. State Department says heavily armed, government-controlled paramilitary forces operate in areas of the country including in its capital, Managua. “These groups are attacking blockades, kidnapping and detaining individuals, taking over privately owned land, and committing other crimes,” says the travel advisory.
“Rallies and demonstrations are widespread and occur daily with little notice,” it says. “Government-controlled forces have attacked peaceful demonstrators leading to significant numbers of deaths and injuries. Looting, vandalism, and acts of arson often occur during unrest, including in tourist areas. Government authorities detain protesters, and some people have disappeared. Human rights groups have documented credible claims of torture of detainees.”