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Nicaraguan government releases ink, paper it impounded from newspaper critical of Ortega

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Nicaragua’s government on Friday released a shipment of impounded ink and paper belonging to La Prensa newspaper, which has been critical of leftist President Daniel Ortega, one of the owners said.

The United States welcomed the release of the ink and paper seized in October 2018. Washington has imposed sanctions on it for human rights violations following a wave of anti-government protests in 2018, and urged Managua to ease restrictions on other organizations.

La Prensa is Nicaragua’s biggest newspaper and has been a thorn in the side of Ortega, repeatedly referring to him as the “dictator” in the wake of the protests that were crushed by the security forces. About 326 people died in the unrest.

The government of Ortega, whose family presides over a vast media empire, has cracked down on independent news outlets. As well as impounding La Prensa’s shipment of ink and paper, Nicaraguan police also raided and shuttered two television channels.

La Prensa, Nicaragua’s only national newspaper, has been forced to reduce the number of pages it prints, which cut its advertising revenue and forced it to lay off many journalists.

Jaime Chamorro, whose family owns La Prensa, told Reuters that a channel of communication was opened with the customs department and it “freed our supplies that were detained.”

Michael Kozak, the Acting Assistant Secretary for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said on Twitter that “the long-overdue decision to release @laprensa’s paper & ink from Nicaraguan customs is a step in the right direction.”

Kozak called for Ortega to “return property confiscated from other independent outlets” such as Confidencial and 100% Noticias, which were effectively shut down inside Nicaragua following the protests.

“Freedom of expression is a #HumanRight,” Kozak added.

Reporting by Ismael Lopez; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; editing by Grant McCool