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Exclusive: Nicaragua's Ortega says 'ready to meet Trump'

Latest update : 2018-09-10

By Marc PERELMAN

With his country embroiled in a major political crisis since April, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has granted an exclusive interview to FRANCE 24. The Nicaraguan leader denies ordering a deadly crackdown on protesters and rejects calls for early elections. While accusing the United States of supporting the protest movement, Ortega says he is ready to meet US President Donald Trump in the coming weeks at the UN General Assembly.

In an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24, Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega denied orchestrating a deadly crackdown on the protest movement that has rocked his country since April 18. Human rights groups say more than 320 people have been killed in five months of violence. The Nicaraguan government puts the toll at 198 dead.

Asked about a recent damning report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the violence in Nicaragua, President Ortega called it "slanderous". The UN investigation into human rights violations between April 18 and August 18 points to "extrajudicial killings" and "enforced disappearances" as well as "torture and ill-treatment". Ortega denounced a "politically charged" report and said the UN body was taking orders from Washington. He strongly denied that the police or pro-government paramilitaries have committed crimes, adding that no police officer is being investigated.

>> Watch our Reporters show : "Inside Nicaragua’s rebel stronghold of Masaya"

The Nicaraguan president also accused the United States of plotting a "coup" against him. He claimed the CIA has trained and financed military groups to try to overthrow him and added that he did not rule out a US military intervention taking place. "Anything is possible when talking about the United States," he told FRANCE 24’s Marc Perelman.

'Respect for institutions'

President Ortega insisted that the situation in his country is under control, despite thousands of Nicaraguans taking to the streets again on Sunday, September 9, in the capital Managua to demand his departure and the release of "political prisoners". Ortega, who has held the presidency since 2007, said he is in talks with the UN and European countries, such as Germany and Spain, to restart the stalled dialogue with the opposition. The former guerrilla leader also accused Nicaragua’s Catholic Church, which has acted as a mediator, of siding with the opposition, and accused the latter of taking orders from Washington.

Ortega, who first ruled Nicaragua between 1979 and 1990, is refusing calls for early elections to be held before the end of his term in 2021 – the protesters’ main demand – and has not ruled out running for another term in office. "To call early elections would be a drastic idea for Nicaragua”, the president claimed, adding that “we need to defend institutions and respect for those institutions”.

The 72-year-old said he planned to make his first appearance in years at the UN General Assembly in New York, which opens on September 25, and is ready to meet US President Donald Trump. "I think that the idea of having exchange and dialogue with a global power like the United States – and here I’m not talking just on behalf of Nicaragua, I’m talking for Latin America as well – is necessary, in fact it’s an imperative," Ortega told FRANCE 24. The UN General Assembly "could be an opportunity," he concluded.