Nicaraguan government takes control of five opposition-held towns

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Four months before scheduled municipal elections, Nicaraguan riot police took control of town halls in five municipalities that were in the hands of an opposition party.

Kitty Monterrey, president of Citizens for Freedom, a political party banned by the Nicaraguan government ahead of last year’s presidential elections, confirmed police occupations in San Sebastian of Yali, El Cua, Murra and El Almendro.

Oscar Gadea Tinoco, mayor of Pantasma and member of Citizens for Freedom, also said police occupied his town on Saturday.

“All legitimately elected mayor’s offices under the flag of Citizens for Freedom have been taken over by the regime,” Monterrey said Monday via Twitter. She demanded that President Daniel Ortega respect the welfare of officials and mayors removed from office.

Citizens for Freedom had won each of those mayoralties in the 2017 elections. But heading into last year’s presidential election, President Daniel Ortega showed little tolerance for opposition. Authorities have locked up seven opposition figures who may have challenged Ortega for the presidency.

Instead, Ortega has coasted to a fourth consecutive term in elections that the United States and European Union dismissed as a farce and opposition figures remain in custody.

The Nicaraguan government had not commented on the takeovers.

Noel Moreno, the ousted mayor of San Sebastian de Yali in northwestern Nicaragua, said around 50 heavily armed riot police and members of Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front entered the offices of the city early Monday.

“The headquarters remains under the control of riot police,” Moreno said, adding that he was not there when police arrived. He didn’t know if the city staff had stayed inside or been moved.

He said members of the Sandinista city council had “already appointed themselves mayor and vice-mayor” and raised the Sandinista flag. The takeovers appear to have been similar in the other municipalities.

In Pantasma, Gadea Tinoco said Sandinista councilor Carmen Obando had been appointed to replace her. The argument was that Citizens for Freedom was no longer a recognized entity because Nicaraguan electoral authorities revoked its status last year.

After the party was canceled, Monterrey was also stripped of her Nicaraguan citizenship and accused of being in the country illegally. She fled into exile in Costa Rica.

Of the 153 municipalities in Nicaragua, the Sandinista Front of Ortega now controls 140. Two allied parties control the remaining 13.

The opposition organization Open Ballot Boxes, a citizen election observation network, denounced “the absence of democratic conditions”. They demanded that the welfare of municipal workers be respected.

“They don’t want anyone to participate in these elections,” Moreno said.

In a statement, Monterrey called the takeovers “a very serious attack on the popular will and municipal autonomy.”

“With these actions, the regime confirms that it has no interest in rehabilitating the electoral process or even trying to maintain an appearance of legality in the next municipal elections,” she said.

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