Nicaraguan anti-Ortega bishop under house arrest after pre-dawn raid

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Rolando Alvarez, bishop of the Diocese of Matagalpa and Esteli and critical of the Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, prays at a Catholic church where he is taking refuge alleging he had been targeted by the police, in Managua, Nicaragua May 20, 2022. REUTERS/Maynor Valenzuela

Aug 19 (Reuters) - Nicaragua's Rolando Alvarez, Bishop of Matagalpa and one of the most influential leaders of the country's Catholic Church, is under house arrest in the capital Managua after he was removed from the northern diocese in a pre-dawn raid, police said on Friday.

Alvarez, a critic of President Daniel Ortega's government, had been confined for two weeks in a Church house in Matagalpa alongside five priests, one seminarian and a cameraman for a religious television channel.

Police said the cameraman and clerics had been transferred to a prison in Managua.

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Nicaraguan authorities have detained at least three priests in recent months while others have gone into exile.

The raid drew international condemnation from public figures and religious groups, while a spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was very worried. Pope Francis has not commented on the crackdown.

The relationship between the Catholic Church and Ortega's government has been severely strained after a harsh crackdown on anti-Ortega protests in 2018, when the Church acted as a mediator between the government and protesters.

The Church has called for justice for more than 360 people who died during the unrest.

Earlier this month, police shut down seven radio stations linked to Alvarez and said they were investigating him for alleged conspiracy.

Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes said he had visited Alvarez in his family home at an unspecified time, and that his spirit was intact though his "physical condition had deteriorated."

"With a heart full of pain and indignation, I condemn the nighttime kidnapping of Monsignor Alvarez," said exiled Nicaraguan Bishop Silvio Baez in a tweet. "The dictatorship has once again surpassed its own evil and diabolic spirit."

The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, also condemned the detentions in a statement and demanded "their immediate freedom and those of all political prisoners."

The niece of the 55-year-old bishop Alvarez said police had that same morning raided the house belonging to his parents in Managua.

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Reporting by Ismael Lopez; Writing by Sarah Morland; Editing by Alistair Bell and Josie Kao

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