Nicaragua frees prisoners ahead of talks with opposition

The government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega on Wednesday released dozens of people who had been arrested in last year's crackdown on street protests.

The releases came just hours before talks between the government and opponents were scheduled to begin. seven months after the last round of dialogue broke down and the government broke up protest road blockades.

Rights groups estimate that at least 770 people have been arrested in relation to the anti-government protests that broke out last April over pension reforms and quickly escalated to demands that Ortega step down.

Several vans carrying people in inmates' uniforms left the Modelo prison in Managua Wednesday. Families and lawyers of several prisoners said the released inmates had turned up at their homes. However, there was no clear information on the number released.

Some of the inmates waved small blue-and-white Nicaraguan flags, a frequent gesture in last year's protests. Government supporters prefer the red-and-black banners of Ortega's Sandinista party.

The previous round of talks, from May 16 to July 9, was attended by student, business and civic groups organized in the Civic Alliance. Many of the leaders of the 2018 protests that led to the talks have been arrested or gone into hiding or exile.

The Civic Alliance delegation to the talks attended a Mass early Wednesday before heading to the venue, a business institute south of the capital.

Ortega's government has cracked down on media outlets and essentially prohibited protests. The alliance has demanded the freeing of "political prisoners."