Five people die as anti-government protests spread across Nicaragua

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Fears unrest over social security reforms may grow as more demonstrators join in and the state responds with heavy hand

Violent protests have spread across Nicaragua in response to government reforms of the social security system. Between five and 10 people had been killed by Friday night during three days of rioting, reports said.

The violence follows the decision of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) government to push through reforms to the national social security system in response to the financial crisis affecting the National Social Security Institute (INSS).

The reforms, which went into effect on Wednesday, apply a 5% tax to old-age and disability pensions and increase the contributions paid by both employees and employers. Some reports over Friday night put the death toll.

Riot police agents clash with protesters in Managua on Friday. Photograph: Inti Ocon/AFP/Getty Images

Consecutive governments have been accused of using the INSS as a source of petty cash, leaving many people feeling that pensioners and workers are now being forced to pay the price for the systems mismanagement.

In a national radio address on Tuesday, the official government spokeswoman, Rosario Murillo who is also the countrys vice-president and the wife of the president, Daniel Ortega defended the reforms, stressing the retirement age had not been raised from 60, the number of weekly contributions required for a state pension would remain at 750 and pensioners would still receive their one-month Christmas bonus.

However, on Wednesday protests were organised in the capital, Managua, and the city of Len. The government responded with counter-marches and positioning supporters on Managua roundabouts in a show of force. At one protest, members of the Sandinista Youth were filmed violently confronting peaceful protesters on the Masaya Highway as the national police watched on.

In a radio address, Murillo responded that the protesters were trying to destroy the peace the government had built in Nicaragua, comparing them to vampires, needing blood to feed their political agendas.

The protests against the social security reforms came on top of demonstrations the previous week against government inaction and even alleged collusion in relation to fires in the Indio Maz biological reserve in Nicaraguas Caribbean coast region.

Alleged fraud in the countrys electoral processes in recent years have allowed Ortega to control the countrys national assembly and make important constitutional changes, including his own right to serve more than two terms as president. He now controls all branches of government, while reforms to the laws regulating the army and national police have also brought those institutions into line behind him.

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