UN says Nicaragua protest killings may be ‘unlawful’

A woman looks at pictures of students killed in recent protests against the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, in Managua on April 24, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 25 April 2018
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UN says Nicaragua protest killings may be ‘unlawful’

  • Some groups called for "dictator" Ortega and his wife to step down, yelling "Out! Out!"
  • Mass street protests are rare in Nicaragua, where the army maintains a very tight grip on public order.

MANAGUA: The United Nations said Tuesday that many deaths in nearly a week of anti-government protests violently repressed by police in Nicaragua may have been "unlawful" and called for an investigation.
The scrutiny from the Swiss-based UN human rights office adds to international alarm at Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's ordered crackdown against a wave of anti-government demonstrations and clashes.
The European Union, United States and the Vatican have all urged talks to restore calm, while the US embassy in Managua ordered family members of staff out of the country after Ortega deployed the army to the streets and looting broke out.
A toll compiled from the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights and Ortega's wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo, puts the number of deaths since last Wednesday at 27. Most were protesters, among which university students and youths figure prominently.
"We are particularly concerned that a number of these deaths may amount to unlawful killings," Liz Throssell of the UN Office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights told reporters in Geneva.
"It is essential that all allegations of excessive use of force by police and other security forces are effectively investigated to ensure those responsible are held to account," Throssell said.
The UN office said at least 25 people, including a police officer, had been killed.
The protests were sparked Wednesday by pension reforms aimed at keeping Nicaragua's burdened Social Security Institute afloat by cutting benefits and increasing contributions.
But they rapidly spread and intensified as other grievances over Ortega's rule surged to the fore.
On Monday, tens of thousands of people -- employees, students, pensioners and ordinary citizens -- marched peacefully in the capital Managua and other cities demanding an end to the forceful security crackdown on protests.
Some groups called for "dictator" Ortega and his wife to step down, yelling "Out! Out!"
Ortega, a 72-year-old former Sandinista guerrilla leader who has ruled Nicaragua for 22 of the past 39 years, has been taken aback by the demonstrations against him, the biggest in his last 11-year stretch in power.
He has canceled the pension reforms and called for dialogue, and Murillo has suggested arrested protesters could be released.
But his security forces have not been pulled back, and -- though Managua appeared relatively calm early Tuesday -- widespread anti-government sentiment persisted.
Even Nicaragua's business sector, whose support had shored up Ortega over the past decade, has abandoned him over the violence.
A pro-government rally was being organized for Thursday to show that the president still enjoyed backing from part of the population.
Mass street protests are rare in Nicaragua, where the army maintains a very tight grip on public order.
But dissatisfaction has been bubbling over in recent months.
Frustrations have been voiced over corruption, the distant and autocratic style of Ortega and Murillo, limited options to change the country's politics in elections, and the president's control over the Congress, the courts and the electoral authority.
In rural areas, anger also stemmed from a stalled plan by Ortega to have a Chinese company carve a $50 billion canal across Nicaragua to rival Panama's lucrative Pacific-to-Atlantic shipping canal.
If the project went ahead, it would displace thousands of rural dwellers and indigenous communities, while dealing a negative impact on the environment.
"People are demanding democracy, freedom, free elections, a transparent government, the separation of powers, rule of law. The people want freedom," former Nicaraguan foreign minister Norman Caldera told AFP.
"If the government doesn't yield, it's going to be very difficult to stop this (the protests)," he said, asserting that the "big majority" of the population was showing its frustration with Ortega.
"The repressive apparatus is not able to halt protests on this scale," Caldera said.
Though Ortega has held out the promise of talks with opponents, the lack of any identifiable leader in the protest movement could make dialogue there difficult.
Under his watch, Nicaragua has avoided the rampant crime seen in northern Central American countries where gangs are rife.
It has also put in solid economic growth, yet it remains one of the poorest nations in Latin America.
The sudden upsurge in the streets puts Ortega at a crossroads: to tough it out, or to bow to the demands for democracy that have become too loud to ignore.


‘Nut rage’ Korean Air heiress questioned over illegal Filipino maids

Updated 3 min 57 sec ago
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‘Nut rage’ Korean Air heiress questioned over illegal Filipino maids

SEOUL: A Korean Air heiress known for a “nut rage” tantrum that sparked national uproar was summoned for questioning Thursday for illegally hiring immigrants to work as maids, the latest scandal to engulf her billionaire family.
Cho Hyun-ah kept her head bowed as she reported to immigration authorities in Seoul on Thursday.
“I’m sorry to cause trouble,” she said in a quiet voice before entering the office.
She faces allegations that she illegally hired some 10 Filipinos to work as housemaids in the family home by disguising them as company trainees to obtain visas.
It is against the law in South Korea to hire foreigners as domestic helpers.
A series of scandals have left Korean Air chairman Cho Yang-ho and his family facing mounting scrutiny over a spate of alleged wrongdoings that have riled the public and even sparked protests by the firm’s employees.
The family first shot to international infamy in 2014 when Cho Hyun-ah forced two Korean Air flight attendants to kneel and beg for forgiveness after she was served macadamia nuts in a bag rather than a bowl.
She ordered the Seoul-bound flight back to the gate so one of them could be ejected in an incident quickly dubbed “nut rage” that many South Koreans felt typified the way ultra-wealthy families often behave.
She was sentenced to a year in prison by a lower court. But after serving five months in jail she was was freed when the appeals court cleared her of hampering an air route — the most serious charge — as the aircraft was still on the ground.
Her younger sister Cho Hyun-min recently won unflattering headlines with her own tantrum when she allegedly splashed fruit juice over a business associate in a fit of rage.
Prosecutors stopped short of bringing charges against her after the victim reconciled with her.
But the incident set off a flurry of new allegations about the family’s other alleged wrongdoings.
Among the allegations authorities are now investigating include smuggling of furniture and food, tax evasion, hiring of illegals and verbal abuse and assaults against employees.
Korean Air workers launched an online chat room detailing various grievances they had with the family.
On Friday some employees will hold their fourth weekly rally calling for Cho family to take a back seat in the company.
Police have also summoned the chairman Cho’s wife Lee Myung-hee for questioning on Monday after more than ten people claimed they had been physically or verbally assaulted by her.
Lee is also suspected of involvement in the illegal hiring of foreign maids and will be questioned in this case as well, the immigration office said.