Another Nicaraguan presidential candidate arrested in crackdown

President Daniel Ortega faces an international reprimand for cracking down on potential opponents ahead of the November elections.

Another potential presidential candidate has been arrested in Nicaragua as President Daniel Ortega’s crackdown on potential opponents ahead of the November elections continues.

Noel Vidaurre was under house arrest and charged with “undermining the sovereignty” of the country, police said on Saturday, in the latest in a series of arrests condemned by the United States and the European Union.

At least seven presidential candidates were arrested in the crackdown that began in early June with a police raid on the home of journalist Cristiana Chamorro, daughter of ex-president Violeta Chamorro.

Half a dozen other potential candidates have been arrested, while nearly two dozen other journalists and opposition activists have also been detained.

Almost all of them have been arrested under the “treason” laws that Ortega used against his political rivals, and most face vague allegations of crimes against the state.

Ortega has justified the wave of arrests underway by claiming that his government is targeting criminals who are planning a coup against him.

But civil society and human rights groups have accused the 75-year-old president – who ruled Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990 and returned to power in 2007, winning two successive nominations since then – of growing authoritarianism.

“The severity and escalation of the Ortega government’s brutal crackdown on critics and opposition members in recent weeks requires increased international pressure,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement last month.

The United States recently imposed a fee punishments and visa restrictions on Nicaraguan officials over the crackdown, calling on the Ortega government to respect the rule of law and ensure free and fair elections are held on 7 November.

The European Union has said it is “inconceivable” that the November elections “come far closer to democratic competition”.

Earlier this month, EU top diplomat Josep Borrell said “more restrictive” measures may be needed against Ortega’s Sandinista government.

“The situation has reached such an extreme that member states will have to consider more concrete actions, and not just ‘enough already, Mr Ortega’,” Borrell told a session of the European Parliament.

Vidaurre, 66, was one of the potential candidates of the Alianza Ciudadanos por la Libertad group against Ortega, who is running for a fourth consecutive term.

Potential candidates Juan Sebastian Chamorro and Arturo Cruz have also been arrested in recent weeks, while Lesther Aleman – a former student leader who returned to Nicaragua after exile but stayed in safe houses – was also detained.

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

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