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Another presidential hopeful arrested in Nicaragua

Another presidential candidate was arrested in Nicaragua on Saturday, police said — the seventh detained by Daniel Ortega’s government in the lead-up to elections on November 7.

Noel Vidaurre was put under house arrest, accused of “undermining the sovereignty” of the country, in the latest of a series of arrests condemned by the United States and European Union.

Long-term Nicaraguan leader Ortega is expected to seek a fourth consecutive presidential term in the elections.

Ortega, 75, will be the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front’s candidate for the presidential vote, Gustavo Porras, the speaker of Nicaragua’s assembly, confirmed last week.

Seven opposition presidential hopefuls have been among 28 people detained by Ortega’s government.

In a clampdown that began on June 2, Ortega’s government has rounded up political rivals in a series of house raids and night-time arrests on charges of threatening Nicaragua’s “sovereignty.”

On Saturday, political commentator Jaime Arellano was also put under custody at his home.

Julie Chung, the top US diplomat for Latin America, said on Twitter the two were “just the latest victims of a despicable campaign to criminalize peaceful opposition.”

The charges are rooted in a law initiated by Ortega and approved by lawmakers in December that has been widely criticized as a means of freezing out challengers and silencing opponents ahead of the election.

The law bars “those who ask for, celebrate and applaud the imposition of sanctions against the Nicaraguan state” from seeking public office.

Increasing authoritarianism

Vidaurre, 66, was one potential candidate for the Alianza Ciudadanos por la Libertad group standing against Ortega.

Presidential candidates will be able to register from July 28 to August 2.

Ortega says the people rounded up by his forces are “criminals” seeking to overthrow him with US backing.

But the clampdown has drawn international condemnation and fresh sanctions, with the United States branding the long-term leader a “dictator.”

The European Union has said it was “inconceivable” the November elections “will be anything remotely approaching a democratic competition.”

A firebrand Marxist in his younger days, Ortega and his Sandinistas toppled a corrupt autocratic regime to popular applause and seized control of the country in 1979.

He was elected president in 1984 and ruled until 1990 when he was beaten by Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, then returned to power in 2007. He has won two successive re-elections.

Cristiana Chamorro, ex-president Chamorro’s daughter and widely seen as the favorite to beat Ortega this year, was the first to be targeted and is now under house arrest on government claims of money laundering.

Ortega has been accused of increasing authoritarianism, especially following the brutal repression of anti-government demonstrations in 2018, which left more than 300 dead and thousands in exile, according to rights bodies.

His vice president since 2017 is his wife, Rosario Murillo.

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