Nicaraguan police accuse anti-government protesters of planning attacks

MANAGUA (Reuters) - Nicaraguan police on Monday accused 16 anti-government protesters of planning to carry out terrorist attacks in the Central American country, which has been rocked by more than a year-and-a-half of protests against the government.

FILE PHOTO: A masked protester takes part in a protest against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's government in Managua, Nicaragua October 31, 2019.REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas/File Photo

Victoriano Ruiz, a police official, said authorities had secured multiple arms and ammunition during its initial investigation into the 16 activists.

“In addition to the crimes they had already committed, the criminals planned other acts of terrorism in Managua, Leon, Chinandega and Masaya, targeting police and municipal buildings as well as monuments of heroes and martyrs,” Ruiz said in a video recording of a media conference.

“The criminals and the evidence have been handed over to the relevant authorities so that the case can be judged.”

Police have stepped up activities against activists in recent months, following a crackdown by the government of President Daniel Ortega last year against widespread protests calling for his ouster during which 300 people were killed.

The opposition Blue and White National Unity movement said at least 151 opponents of the government have been jailed since March.

Separately on Monday, the Archdiocese of Managua said in a statement that violent groups linked to the government had entered and taken control of a cathedral in the capital, beating a priest and vandalizing the interior.

The 16 people accused of planning terrorist attacks include prominent student protesters such as Nicaraguan and Belgian national Amaya Coppens, who has been arrested previously.

The activists’ families said most were detained by police on Thursday after delivering bottled water, medicine and other supplies to a group of mothers starting a hunger strike to protest what they describe as the politically motivated imprisonment of their sons.

Reuters could not immediately confirm what charges the activists face but Karla Sequeira, a lawyer for one of the group, said her client had been falsely accused of arms trafficking. Sequeira said the arms had been planted.

Representatives of the government and the police did not respond to a request for comment. Lawyers for the other accused could not been immediately reached for comment.

Reporting by Ismael López in Managua; Writing by Stefanie Eschenbacher; editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Jane Wardell