By Doina Chiacu
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States condemned on Monday a violent crackdown on street protesters by Nicaraguan forces and said it was revoking visas of officials connected to the violence.
International condemnation of President Daniel Ortega grew sharply this month over the deployment of police and allied paramilitary forces to squash the unrest, which has led to nearly 300 deaths and many more people injured since protests against began three months ago.
"The United States strongly condemns the ongoing violence in Nicaragua and human rights abuses committed by the Ortega regime in response to protests," the White House said in a statement.
The demonstrations were triggered by a plan by Ortega's government to trim pension benefits, but the government's heavy-handed response sparked a wider protest against Ortega's rule.
The Nicaraguan protesters are demanding democratic reforms after years of fraudulent elections and repression of opposition parties and independent media, the White House said.
"These demands have been met with indiscriminate violence, with more than 350 dead, thousands injured, and hundreds of citizens falsely labeled 'coup-mongers' and 'terrorists' who have been jailed, tortured, or who have gone missing," it said.
The United States is revoking or restricting the visas of Nicaraguan officials connected to the violence against protesters, the statement said.
Washington secured the return of vehicles donated to the Nicaraguan national police that have been used to suppress the protesters and cut off additional sales and donations of equipment that might be used against protesters, it said.
Washington blamed Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla leader, and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, for the situation.
"President Ortega and Vice President Murillo are ultimately responsible for the pro-government parapolice that have brutalized their own people," the White House said.
Last month, the United States imposed sanctions against three top Nicaraguan officials, citing human rights abuses.
"These are a start, not an end, of potential sanctions," the White House said.
Ortega, who ruled the country from 1979 to 1990, has held elected office as president since 2007. The current violence comes after years of calm in Nicaragua and is the worst since his Sandinista movement battled U.S.-backed "Contra" rebels in the 1980s.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Susan Thomas and Frances Kerry)
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Updated Date: Jul 31, 2018 00:06 AM