Clashes in Nicaragua as anti-canal protest turns violent
MANAGUA – Dramatic scenes in Nicaragua’s capital of Managua on Wednesday as angry protesters clashed with riot police over the construction of a Chinese-built canal through the country.
Protesters forced barricades against a line of riot police and officers hit demonstrators with batons as authorities struggled to maintain law and order over the rowdy protest.
A number of arrests and injuries were reported with protesters accusing officers of using heavy-handed tactics.
The tensions are over the construction of the $50 billion shipping canal through Nicaragua that critics say will force residents from their home and submerge communities.
More than a year ago, Nicaraguan lawmakers granted a 50-year concession to Chinese company HKND Group to design, build and manage the shipping channel that would compete with the Panama Canal.
The country’s opposition have accused President Daniel Ortega of an abuse of power by signing over large swathes of the country for the ambitious canal construction.
“We’re all going to be here to tell Nicaragua that this is an abuse of power and sooner or later the people of Nicaragua will realize this. As I was saying to these young men here, learn from what happened with the Somozista Guard (national guard of ruling Somoza dynasty of Nicaragua)”, said Eduardo Montealegre from the opposition Liberal Independent Party.
The $40 billion proposal calls for linking Nicaragua’s Caribbean and Pacific coasts and includes plans for two free-trade zones, a railway, an oil pipeline and airports.
The Nicaraguan government headed by President Daniel Ortega defends the canal construction. As one of the poorest countries in Central America, Ortega has said Nicaragua has much to gain from the project.
Critics of the plan say the government has closed off lines of communication between authorities and the people to express concerns over the ambitious canal construction.
“The only (person) responsible is called Daniel Ortega for closing off civic action, the process of democracy. This is not a president, he is a tyrant, he is a dictator,” said opposition lawmaker, Armando Herrera.
Some experts predict that construction could have an impact on some 30,000 people living along its proposed route.
The government says the canal, which has been discussed for decades and will stretch some 278 km (173 miles) long, could boost the country’s gross domestic product by up to 15 percent but protesters don’t believe that. -Reuters