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Thousands march in Nicaragua against Ortega

MANAGUA (Reuters) - Thousands of protesters dressed in white marched in Nicaragua on Wednesday against leftist President Daniel Ortega, decrying price increases and calling him a dictator for banning two opposition parties.

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Carrying signs like “Get up and mobilize against hunger and poverty” and “Together against dictatorship,” the protesters were a mix of conservatives and center-leftists disillusioned with Ortega’s leadership since the Cold War foe of the United States was brought back to power in a 2006 election.

It was the second big protest in recent weeks against Ortega, a former guerrilla leader who fought U.S.-backed Contra rebels for a decade after his 1979 Sandinista revolution ousted the Anastasio Somoza dictatorship and brought him to power.

“We are saying ‘yes’ to democracy and ‘no’ to dictatorship,” said organizer Georgina Munoz, who leads a civil committee representing 600 nongovernmental associations including feminist groups and human rights activists.

Ortega’s comeback at the polls was based on a platform of peace and reconciliation, and was helped by a split in the main opposition Liberal Party.

He has angered opponents by banning two small opposition parties -- one made up of conservative businessman and one an alliance of former Sandinistas who split with the ruling party -- from participating in upcoming local elections.

Ortega said recently he would not let political adversaries depose him and threatened to use “the steel of war” against anyone who tried to bring him down.

Many joined Wednesday’s protest because of rising food and energy prices that have hit impoverished Nicaragua hard. Bus and taxi drivers stopped traffic for a week this year with a strike to protest against higher fuel prices.

“The economic situation is a disaster and, politically, everyone should have the right to vote” for whatever party they want, said Mario Guadamuz, a 75-year-old retired teacher who said he could not live on his tiny $100-a-month pension.

Ortega, an ally of Venezuela’s self-styled socialist leader Hugo Chavez, has said in the past that opposition groups are financed by the United States in an effort to topple him.

Ortega is hoping for big crowds of supporters at his party’s celebration this weekend of the 1979 Sandinista revolution.

Reporting by Ivan Castro; Writing by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by John O’Callaghan