Nicaraguan protesters refuse to back down, as Ortega talks continue

MANAGUA (Reuters) - Nicaraguan officials began a second day of talks with students and business leaders on Friday to try to resolve weeks of tension with increasingly unpopular President Daniel Ortega that has sparked nationwide clashes.

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At least 49 people have been killed, mostly students, in demonstrations that began late last month over discontent with a new law that raised worker and employer social security contributions while cutting benefits.

The protests mark the most sustained crisis of Ortega’s 11-years in power. The former leftist guerrilla leader has delivered steady growth in the poor Central American nation, despite criticism he has turned it into a family dictatorship.

The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights said on Friday it was too early to deliver conclusions from a five-day investigation into allegations of murder and disappearances. But it would continue meeting with officials and citizens, including mothers of those allegedly murdered in the protests.

“We reiterate our condemnation of the dead, disappeared, aggressions and arbitrary detentions of protesters, activists and journalists,” said Antonia Urrejola, the group’s Nicaraguan delegate.

Dozens of flag-waving demonstrators chanted “Murderer!” outside a Catholic seminary on Friday, the second day of an unprecedented forum for students, business leaders and others to air grievances with government representatives.

Ortega appeared not to be present at Friday’s talks. He was, however, there on Wednesday, when university students publicly berated him and called for his resignation.

“In one month you have ruined the country,” a university student, identified by local media as Lesther Aleman, told Ortega at the time, before breaking down in tears.

Despite Ortega’s absence on Friday, protesters showed no signs of giving up.

“We support the mothers of the fallen,” said Carla Patricia Gomez, 46, wearing a Nicaraguan flag as a headband.

“They even killed a 6-year-old child,” she added, speaking among a crowd of protesters brandishing photos of youths they said died in the clashes.

Additional reporting by Diego Ore and Lizbeth Diaz; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Cynthia Osterman