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Five Ortega critics jailed as political crisis in Nicaragua deepens

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A man, wearing a face mask for protection against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), walks by a mural depicting Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, in Managua, Nicaragua March 30, 2020. Picture taken March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas/File Photo

MANAGUA, June 13 (Reuters) - Nicaraguan police arrested and jailed five prominent opponents of President Daniel Ortega over the weekend, including one-time rebel allies who denounced the detentions as an assault on democracy.

The arrests beginning late on Saturday marked a deepening political crisis in the Central American nation, ahead of an election in November in which the leftist Ortega, 75, is seeking to extend his 14 years as president.

Over the past few weeks, a dozen opposition figures have been arrested on orders from Ortega's security apparatus, including four declared presidential rivals.

Ortega loyalists argue they are only enforcing the law, which prohibits would-be candidates from receiving foreign financing or the publication of information the government determines to be false.

In statements, the police blamed the detainees for seeking to undermine the country's independence and sovereignty, as well as for "inciting foreign interference in internal affairs, requesting military interventions and organizing with foreign financing."

The latest raids targeted the leadership of the leftist opposition Unamos party, including its president, Suyen Barahona, and former General Hugo Torres.

Unamos is made up of many former Ortega allies like Torres, who fought alongside him in the late 1970s as they drove right-wing dictator Anastasio Somoza from power.

Just before he was arrested, the 73-year-old Torres uploaded a video that denounced Ortega for launching a "second dictatorship" and betraying the values he once championed.

"These are desperate acts from a regime that can feel itself dying," he said.

Critical journalists have also been questioned by authorities in recent weeks.

Last week, a senior U.S. diplomat blasted the "wave of repression" by Ortega and his allies, adding the United States is prepared to review trade relations with Nicaragua if the upcoming election is not free and fair. read more

"These actions against the Unamos leadership are part of an escalation of repression from the Ortega regime against the democratic opposition," Unamos said in a statement.

Earlier this month, police placed opposition leader Cristiana Chamorro under house arrest shortly after she announced a presidential run, seeking to end Ortega's three consecutive terms in office. read more

Reporting by Ismael Lopez; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Daniel Wallis

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