Nicaragua to take over six universities seen as critical of Ortega

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Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega attends a two-day meeting with ALBA group representatives at the Revolution Palace in Havana, Cuba, December 14, 2021. Alberto Roque/Pool via REUTERS

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MANAGUA, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Nicaraguan lawmakers loyal to President Daniel Ortega on Monday passed legislation allowing the state to take over six universities the government effectively shut down last week, in a move critics say entrench authoritarianism.

The private universities include the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua, the hotbed of student anti-government demonstrations in 2018.

Students and colleges played a key role in the 2018 nationwide protests that at one point threatened to bring down Ortega's government. More than 300 people were killed during the ensuing crackdown widely condemned by rights groups.

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"The National Council of Universities (CNU) will guarantee the continuity of studies for the 14,000 students (of the closed universities)," according to a government document sent by Ortega to Congress.

Maria Asuncion Moreno, a professor of constitutional law, said Ortega was trying to stamp out critical thinking.

The government has also stripped five foreign universities of their operating permits inside Nicaragua, citing violations. For some of the universities, the licenses were linked to programs they run inside Nicaragua.

Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, have sought to portray their opponents as traitors and have passed laws making it possible to jail critics of their government.

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Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Richard Chang

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