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Veering from democracy, Nicaragua’s Ortega locks in another term

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November 8, 2021

By Daina Beth Solomon

SAN JOSE (Reuters) -Daniel Ortega https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/ortega-murillo-presidential-couple-with-an-iron-grip-nicaragua-2021-11-05 easily secured a fourth consecutive term as Nicaragua’s president, early results showed on Monday, after the former guerrilla fighter suppressed political rivals in a vote critics said was rigged but which won Russian recognition.

Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council said that with roughly half the ballots counted, a preliminary tally gave Ortega’s Sandinista alliance about 75% of votes.

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The European Union rejected the results, saying the elections “complete the conversion of Nicaragua into an autocratic regime.”

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov backed Ortega, saying U.S. calls for countries not to recognize the outcome were “unacceptable.”

U.S. President Joe Biden, in a statement https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/nicaraguas-ortega-seeks-re-election-with-opposition-candidates-jail-2021-11-07 issued before the tally was announced, said Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, had orchestrated a “pantomime election that was neither free nor fair.”

The criticism of Sunday’s contest by Western and many Latin American nations began well before the vote, after Ortega detained opponents and business leaders, canceled rival parties and criminalized dissent over the course of months.

Election observers from the EU and the Organization of American States were not allowed to scrutinize the poll and journalists have been barred from entering the country.

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Monday’s statement by all 27 EU members accused Ortega of “systematic incarceration, harassment and intimidation” of opponents as well as journalists and activists.

Ortega’s victory consolidates the increasingly repressive political model he has built in recent years.

A former Marxist rebel who helped topple the right-wing Somoza family dictatorship in the late 1970s, Ortega says he is defending Nicaragua against unscrupulous adversaries bent on ousting him with the aid of foreign powers. His government has passed a series of laws that make it easy to prosecute opponents for crimes such as “betraying the homeland.”

On Sunday, Ortega – the longest-serving leader in the Americas – hailed the election as a victory delivered by the “immense majority of Nicaraguans”, and lashed out at domestic opponents, calling them “demons.”

U.S. officials are considering new sanctions against his government and a review of Nicaragua’s role in a key regional trade pact.

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Biden called on Ortega to restore democracy and release detained opposition leaders. Until that happened, the United States would use all available “diplomatic and economic tools” to hold the Ortega administration to account, he said.

Just five little-known candidates of mostly small parties allied to Ortega’s Sandinistas ran against him on the ballot.

“Most people I know decided not to vote, they say it’s madness,” said Naomi, an opponent of the government from the eastern port of Bluefields, who declined to give her last name for fear of reprisals.

“What they’re doing here is a joke.”

The Supreme Electoral Council said turnout was 65%.

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In the 1980s, Ortega served a single term as president before being voted out. He returned to the top job in 2007.

After initially delivering solid economic growth and attracting private investment, Ortega’s government changed course in response to 2018 anti-government protests. More than 300 people were killed during the ensuing crackdown.

Thousands of Nicaraguans have since fled the country. Many of them gathered in neighboring Costa Rica on Sunday in a show of defiance against Ortega.

Prolonged discontent is expected to fuel more emigration to Costa Rica and the United States, where record numbers of Nicaraguans have been apprehended at the border this year.

Rights activist Haydee Castillo, who was arrested in 2018 and now lives in the United States, called the election “a farce.”

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“He has not conceded anything despite the resolutions and declarations that the international community has made,” Castillo said.

(Reporting by Daina Beth SolomonAdditional reporting by Jake KincaidEditing by Dave Graham, Robert Birsel and Catherine Evans)

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Russian court remands mine director, inspectors in custody after deadly accident

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A court in Siberia on Saturday remanded five people in custody for two months to face charges related to a mining accident that killed more than 50 people this week.

Three managers of the Listvyazhnaya mine, including its director, were ordered to remain in custody until late January for flouting industrial safety standards, a spokesperson for the regional prosecutor’s office said.

The court also ordered two safety inspectors, who had issued a certificate for the mine this month but had not actually checked the facility, to remain in custody until late January.

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The accident, which regional authorities say was likely caused by a methane explosion, claimed the lives of 51 people, including five rescuers who were sent to bring out dozens of men stuck deep underground.

The health ministry said on Saturday that 60 people were being treated in hospital for injuries sustained at the mine, TASS news agency reported.

The accident at the mine, located some 3,500 km (2,200 miles) east of Moscow in the Kemerovo region, was Russia’s worst since 2010 when explosions killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same region.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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Russia spy chief says Ukraine invasion plan ‘malicious’ U.S. propaganda

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine and suggestions to the contrary are malicious U.S. propaganda, Moscow’s foreign intelligence chief said on Saturday.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials have raised the alarm in recent weeks over what they say are unusual Russian troop movements near the border with Ukraine, suggesting that Moscow may be poised to launch an attack.

Russia has repeatedly said it is free to move its troops on its own territory and that such movements should not be a cause for concern.

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“I need to reassure everyone. Nothing like this is going to happen,” Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, said in an interview broadcast on state television, referring to comments on Russia’s alleged invasion plans.

“Everything that is happening around this topic right now is of course malicious propaganda by the U.S. State Department.”

Naryshkin spoke a day after the State Department’s top U.S. diplomat for European affairs said all options were on the table in how to respond to Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine’s border and that NATO would decide on the next move after consultations next week.

While U.S. officials have voiced concerns about a possible Russian attack on Ukraine, Moscow has accused Washington, Kyiv and NATO of provocative and irresponsible behaviour near its borders.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Spanish police march in Madrid to protest against ‘Gag Law’ reform

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November 27, 2021

By Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo

MADRID (Reuters) – Thousands of Spanish police officers marched through Madrid on Saturday to protest against a proposed reform of a security law which they say will hamper their ability to do their work.

Politicians from Spain’s three main conservative parties joined police officers in the protest against proposed changes to the 2015 Citizens Security Law, which critics say violates the right to protest and limits free expression.

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Dubbed the “Gag Law” by those who oppose it, the legislation allows authorities to fine media organisations for distributing unauthorised images of police, strictly limits demonstrations and imposes heavy fines for offenders.

Spain’s leftist government has proposed reforms including no longer classifying the taking of photographs or making of recordings of police at demonstrations as a serious offence.

Under the changes, police will also have to use less harmful materials at protests after a number of people were seriously injured by rubber bullets fired by officers.

The time that suspects who are arrested at protests can be held in custody will be cut from six hours to two and fines will be proportional to how much offenders earn.

“They should either leave the current law as it is or make it better for the police and for the citizens,” Civil Guard officer Vanessa Gonzalez told Reuters.

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Ivan Espinosa de los Monteros, of the far-right Vox party, said: “There is strong opposition against (the reform) of this law. It is against our police and we will not let it happen.”

However, Isa Serra, spokeswoman for the far-left Unidas Podemos party, said at a rally in Cantabria in northern Spain that the law had done a “lot of damage to Spanish democracy”.

Organisers said 150,000 people took part in the Madrid demonstration but the government put the figure at 20,000.

(Reporting by Graham Keeley, Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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