MANAGUA (AFP) – Several thousand pro-government demonstrators have marched in Nicaragua in support of the expulsion of 222 critics of President Daniel Ortega’s government, which has called them “traitors to the homeland.”
The Central American nation released the detained dissidents and exiled them to the United States on Thursday, a move welcomed by Washington, which has imposed sanctions over Ortega’s crackdown on the political opposition.
The pro-government demonstrators passed through the streets of the capital Managua waving flags of Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba and Ortega’s ruling party, and chanting pro-administration and anti-opposition slogans.
Some even carried balloons in the shape of an airplane, in reference to the charted flight that transported the detainees to Washington.
“We are marching in celebration of the deportation of all the criminals who were detained, people who were coup plotters.... What they were doing here was damaging Nicaragua’s image,” Walter Martinez told AFP.
Ortega is “a democratic president,” he added.
A Nicaraguan court official this month said the 222 prisoners were “deported” and called them “traitors to the homeland.”
Nicaragua’s legislature has moved to strip the dissidents of their citizenship, which must be voted on later this year to become law.
Spain has offered them citizenship.
A U.S. official said everyone in the group –- including former presidential candidates, ministers and diplomats -- had consented to travel to the United States, except two who chose to stay in Nicaragua.
Catholic bishop Rolando Alvarez, who refused to leave Nicaragua, on Friday was sentenced to 26 years in prison, stripped of his citizenship and fined.
At the end of the Managua march, a musical show included a song that described the exiled government critics as “coup plotters,” “traitors” and “murderers.”
One pro-government demonstrator said the marchers were “celebrating peace.”
“Because in Nicaragua we want to live in peace, that’s why the commander (Ortega) made the decision to send these thieves to their homeland, the United States, because we don’t want them here,” Rosa Arauz told AFP.
Washington on Thursday welcomed the dissidents’ release but said the move was made unilaterally without any promises from Ortega.