Pro-government crowd harasses Nicaraguan congress

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Led by two Supreme Court justices, supporters of Nicaragua's leftist president threw rocks and fireworks at a hotel where opposition lawmakers tried to meet Tuesday to overturn a decree extending the judges' terms.

The latest chapter in a fight over the limits of President Daniel Ortega's power started earlier in the day when hundreds of people backing his Sandinista Party blocked entrances to the Congress building to keep opposition lawmkers out.

A pro-government crowd then assaulted the Holiday Inn Hotel as legislators sought to hold a session in a conference room.

"They are trying to block us with their mobs," opposition congressman Carlos Noguera said.

The spokesman for the opposition Liberal Party, Leonel Teller, said three of the party's legislators were hit by rocks and were being treated for their injuries.

Supreme Court Justices Rafael Solis and Armengol Cuadra, Sandinista allies whose terms expired earlier this month, led the crowd that attacked the hotel.

Asked about the stones and fireworks, Solis told journalists, "The owners have insurance."

Ortega has depended on the highly politicized Supreme Court for rulings like one by pro-Sandinista justices in October that overruled constitutional term limits, allowing the president to run for a second consecutive term.

The Liberal Party has called Ortega's decree "a coup against the country's governmental institutions."

"The president does not have the authority to name justices," the party said in a statement. "The legislature does."

Congress has been unable to name replacements for the two justices because neither the Sandinistas nor the Liberals have a majority in the legislature.

The Liberals contended that with the help of legislative allies had the 47 votes needed to overturn Ortega's decree extending the terms of the two justices. The unicameral Congress has 92 members.

It was not immediately clear whether a congressional session held at a hotel would be judged valid.