MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega sat down Wednesday to formally talk with opposition and civic groups for the first time since he returned to power in 2007.
The dialogue comes after more than 60 people died amid a government crackdown on demonstrations against social security cuts.
Ortega was greeted by jeers as he arrived at a seminary on the outskirts of Managua with his wife and Vice President Rosario Murillo and a large security detail of about 500 riot police.
"Killers! Killers! Killers!" opponents chanted.
The dialogue, mediated by the Catholic Church, includes university students who participated in the protests against the cuts, which Ortega later withdrew.
The students are now demanding greater democracy in a country where most governmental institutions are tightly controlled by Ortega's Sandinista party.
That demand — as well as justice for the dead protesters — has been taken up by business groups and others.
"What we want is to have a democratic Nicaragua. No one wants to live under a yoke," said Michael Healy, president of the Farmers' Union of Nicaragua, "and that is what we have right now and we can't go on this way."
Some opponents went further, saying they want Ortega to leave office. Ortega helped lead the 1979 revolution that overthrew dictator Anastasio Somoza, but was voted out of power in 1990. He returned in 2007, concentrated the power of the judicial and legislative branches and overturned term limits to perpetuate himself in power. Many now fear that Murillo, the main spokesperson for the government, wants to succeed Ortega in office.
"The dialogue is to demand justice for the victims and that Daniel Ortega leave power because he no longer has the capacity to run this country," Azalea Solis, a representative of the civic groups in the dialogue, told local media.