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Clergy: 3 Dead in Fresh Nicaragua Clashes

Anti-government protesters stand forming a "Human Chain" in Managua, Nicaragua, July 4, 2018.

Three people were killed in fresh clashes Thursday between opposition protesters and police and pro-government paramilitaries in northwestern Nicaragua, local Catholic clergy said.

Earlier, around 20 truckloads of riot police and paramilitaries moved into the indigenous Sutiaba area of the city of Leon to clear roads blocked by barricades.

"They attacked to remove the barricades that the protesters had built, there is still a police presence in Sutiaba, the population is very fearful, in their homes. There are policemen with weapons," Roman Catholic priest Victor Morales told AFP.

"There is a lot of tension and we have confirmed we have at least three dead."

The victims were identified as 21-year-old Dany Lopez, Junior Nunez, 22 and 24-year-old Alex Vazquez, who were shot dead when government forces entered Sutiaba, Morales said.

The priest said Nunez and Vazquez had fled a barricade and "had taken refuge in a house" when police entered and shot them.

Police were using mechanical diggers to tear down the barricades, witnesses said.

Roman Catholic bishops are mediating national dialogue talks between the government and opposition in a bid to end protests against President Daniel Ortega and government repression that have wracked the Central American country since April 18.

The 72-year-old president has remained silent on a proposal by the influential Catholic hierarchy to bring forward elections scheduled for 2021 to March of next year.

Foreign Minister Denis Moncada told the talks that the government is willing to listen to the opposition, but demanded that the barricades be lifted first.

The clashes in Sutiaba marked a new episode in Nicaragua's 10 weeks of protests that have killed at least 220 people.

"We have until now 22 injured and 14 detained, including journalists from the opposition radio Dario, and a 12 year-old boy who was taken out of his home," opposition spokesman Bryon Estrada told AFP.

The protests began as demonstrations against now-scrapped social security reforms, but a heavy-handed police reaction transformed them into demands for justice for those killed, and for the departure of Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.