A demonstrator wearing the national flag looks at pictures of protesters who died during the protests against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's government last year, in Managua, Nov. 2, 2019.
A demonstrator wearing the national flag looks at pictures of protesters who died during the protests against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's government last year, after a religious service at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Managua, Nov. 2, 2019.

The U.S. Thursday slapped sanctions on Nicaragua’s national police and three top police commissioners for what it calls serious human rights abuses against anti-government demonstrators.

“The Ortega regime has utilized the Nicaraguan National Police as a tool in its campaign of violent repression against the Nicaraguan people,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. “Treasury is committed to holding accountable those who seek to silence pro-democracy voices in Nicaragua.”

Any assets the police or the three officials (Juan Antonio Valle Valle, Luis Alberto Perez Olivas and Justo Pastor Urbina) have in the United States are frozen and U.S. citizens are barred from doing business with them.

The Trump administration accuses Nicaraguan police of using live ammunition against peaceful protesters, organizing death squads, arbitrary killings, and kidnappings. It says some of the victims have been opposition political leaders.

Protests erupted in Nicaragua in 2018 over cuts in welfare benefits and soon grew into overall anger against President Daniel Ortega’s government. The opposition accuses Ortega — a one-time leftist hero — of becoming more and more autocratic, like the dictatorship he helped topple in 1979.

He has so far refused resign or to call for early elections.

Human rights groups say the police crackdown on protesters has killed more than 300 people, a number Nicaraguan officials dispute.

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