Pastor killed as anti-government protests in Nicaragua continue

Anti-government protesters take part in a rally against Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega.Reuters

A pastor is among the fatalities as violent anti-government protests continue across Nicaragua.

According to World Watch Monitor, the pastor of the evangelical Camino de Santidad church in Managua was identified as one of three men found dead in Mozonte, 171 kms north of the capital Managua. 

Pastor Justo Emilio Rodiguez Moncada and two other men were found with their hands and feet tied, and gunshot wounds to the head.

Although authorities have reportedly blamed their deaths on gang violence, World Watch Monitor reports that the men's relatives do not agree with the official verdict.

Protests against President Daniel Ortega have been a regular occurrence in Nicaragua since April, when the government tried to introduce unpopular cuts to welfare and benefits.

Since that time, the protests have spread in their cause from welfare cuts to the government in general.  Reuters reports  that over 300 people have been killed and at least 2,000 injured in a crackdown by police and armed groups.  

As the country's economy deteriorates further, protestors are demanding that Ortega step down and call an early election.

However, Ortega is showing no signs of leaving and last week ordered the expulsion of a UN Commission after it strongly criticized the human rights situation in the country. 

The Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua has been trying to mediate in the unrest and churches have been providing shelter and medical assistance to victims of violence.

World Watch Monitor reports that church buildings and church leaders have been attacked in recent months.

Open Doors analyst Rossana Ramirez told the news service that some churches were using their bells to warn of attacks by paramilitary groups and government supporters.

'The government has labelled Christian leaders "coup plotters" and "enemies of the regime",' she said, adding, 'Church leaders and even bishops have been targeted as though they were terrorists.'

Bishop Silvio Baez, auxiliary bishop of Managua, has blamed the president's 'confrontational attitude' for the lack of progress towards peace.

'Calling for dialogue right now is going to be difficult given the confrontational attitude of the government and slanderous language against the Church,' he said.