U.N. asks Nicaragua to let it investigate protest deaths

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations human rights office has asked Nicaragua to let it enter the country to gather evidence about the deaths of dozens of students in protests, U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said on Friday.

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“We are concerned at the volatile situation in Nicaragua, where, according to information from credible sources, to date at least 47 people - the majority of them students, as well as two police officers and a journalist - have been killed in connection with protests that began in mid-April,” she said.

After a violent crackdown by police, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of the capital Managua to demand the resignation of President Daniel Ortega, a former leftist guerrilla leader whom critics accuse of trying to build a family dictatorship.

The protests began as a reaction to social security reforms but widened to include demands for justice for the killings.

“On 7 May, we officially asked the Nicaraguan authorities to grant us access to the country so that we can, in line with the U.N. Human Rights Office’s mandate, gather first-hand information about what happened during the protests and to resume contact with the authorities and others in the country,” Shamdasani said.

The U.N. was waiting for the government’s reply, she said at a news briefing.

She said the U.N. noted that the Nicaraguan National Assembly had created a truth commission to investigate the deaths and allegations of torture and enforced disappearances during the protests.

“For its investigations to be credible, the commission must be independent and able to conduct its work in a transparent and impartial manner,” Shamdasani said.

The U.S. State Department said on Friday the United States remained deeply concerned about the crisis in Nicaragua and condemned the overnight violence.

“Those responsible for killings and other human rights abuses and violations must be brought to justice,” it said in a statement.

It called on the Nicaraguan government to allow independent international human rights organizations such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to assess the situation in the country.

Reporting by Tom Miles; additional reporting by Eric Walsh in Washington; editing by Andrew Roche and Leslie Adler