How Ortega has stayed in power in Nicaragua

MANAGUA (Reuters) - Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s police and armed militias have attacked protesters demanding the resignation of the socialist leader who has ruled the impoverished nation for much of the past four decades.

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More than two months of demonstrations have left at least 212 dead in the bloodiest protests in the Central American nation since its civil war ended in 1990.

Here are the main events that helped Ortega, a Cold War-era U.S. foe, return to the presidency in 2007 at the head of the Sandinista movement and tighten his grip over institutions:

* In 2000, the National Assembly approved a constitutional overhaul that reduced to 35 percent from 45 percent the minimum of valid votes needed to win the presidential election outright.

The reform was part of a power-sharing deal between Ortega, then the main opposition leader, and President Arnoldo Aleman of the Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC) to improve governability after protests organized by the Sandinistas. Since he lost general elections in 1990, ending a decade in power, Ortega’s support averaged around 35 percent, analysts say.

The changes allowed both parties to divide politically appointed seats on the Supreme Court and Electoral Council, and other institutions. Parties that failed to gain at least 4 percent of valid votes were stripped of their legal status.

Aleman’s controversial pact with Ortega and his conviction in 2003 for money laundering and embezzlement weakened his PLC party. He was absolved in 2009 by the Supreme Court from his 20-year sentence.

* In 2007, Ortega’s government started receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in oil cooperation from Venezuela. Most of the funds are run by a private company, Albanisa, controlled by the party with little external oversight, to finance social projects and build a business conglomerate to pay back the loans.

Albanisa had accumulated about $3.2 billion - equivalent to a quarter of Nicaragua’s gross domestic product - in Venezuelan loans by the end of 2016, according to the International Monetary Fund.

* In 2010, the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Court lifted a ban on consecutive presidential re-election, allowing Ortega to run again the next year.

His opponents accused him of electoral fraud in the 2011 election that he won with 72.5 percent of the vote. The United States questioned the result of the general election that gave his Sandinista party an absolute majority in Congress.

* In 2014, Congress changed the constitution to lift term limits to allow Ortega to run for office indefinitely.

* Weeks before the 2016 general election, the Supreme Court ousted Eduardo Montealegre as leader of the main opposition party, the Independent Liberation Party (PLI). A new party leader, Pedro Reyes Vallejos – who had strong ties to Ortega – was appointed by the court.

Reporting by Alonso Soto; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Lisa Shumaker