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Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega threatens to dissolve legislature over stalled appointments

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Nicaragua's leftist leader has threatened to dissolve congress as a political struggle rages over presidential powers and term limits.

At a meeting of private industry leaders Wednesday night, President Daniel Ortega expressed frustration at stalled Supreme Court appointments and threatened to do away with the country's unicameral National Assembly.

"If you give me the word, I'll refound congress," Ortega said, in comments republished by the president's communications office. "If the business council supports me, I'll rewrite it, I'll dissolve the National Assembly."

Justices loyal to Ortega's Sandinista Party have overruled constitutional term limits, paving the way for him to run for a second consecutive term.

But the court itself has been thrown into crisis as terms expire and new appointments are held up in congress, where neither the Sandinistas nor Liberal Party have a majority.

Liberal Party spokesman Leonel Teller said Thursday that the president's threat to dissolve the National Assembly indicates dictatorial tendencies, and he urged the Organization of American States in Washington to intervene in the dispute.

The local president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Ortega appeared to speaking in jest when he suggested dissolving congress.

"I didn't see him talking seriously," chamber President Roger Arteaga said. "It was a way of making a joke, because it wouldn't occur to anyone (to dissolve congress), not even him."

Ortega has extended by decree the expired terms of some Supreme Court justices, while lawmakers say they alone have the power to seat judges.

Appointments also have been held up for the Supreme Electoral Council and federal comptroller's office.

Ortega cast blame on political parties and the opposition.

"Political parties need to be resolving government appointments through negotiation and there's no room for hard positions," Ortega said. "Opposition lawmakers have refused to confirm the appointments."

Ortega first came to power after Sandinista rebels toppled dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, ruling a guerrilla-dominated junta before winning a presidential election in 1984. He fought U.S.-backed Contra rebels for a decade until losing his bid for a second term.

By the time Ortega was voted back into office in 2006, Nicaragua had banned presidents from seeking consecutive terms. But he won the court ruling last year to overturn the ban.