Managua, May 17 : President Daniel Ortega's first formal talks with Nicaraguan opposition and civic groups since he returned to power in 2007 quickly became heated and confrontational today.
The dialogue, mediated by the Roman Catholic Church, came after more than 60 people died amid a government crackdown on demonstrations against social security cuts.
Ortega was greeted by jeers as he arrived at a seminary on the outskirts of Managua with his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, and a large security detail of about 500 riot police.
"Killers! Killers! Killers!" opponents chanted.
That animosity quickly appeared inside as well, when student representative Lesther Aleman interrupted Ortega, shouting that he must halt the repression to show he is serious about dialogue.
"Order it now, in this moment, the repression of the police, of the paramilitary forces, of your party's gangs that have been massacring and killing. ... In less than a month you've ruined the country; Somoza took years." Aleman said, alluding to dictator Anastasio Somoza, whose government was toppled by the Sandinista rebels in 1979.
"You've done things we didn't even imagine you could do." Ortega responded that the police were not repressing protests, but preventing chaos.
"You can't go around attacking police stations. Because it's not little angels out there — there are guns, too, shooting at police," he said.
Ortega shouted back at students that they had their own armed paramilitaries.
But Bishop Abelardo Mata of the Esteli diocese echoed the students' demand that the police return to their barracks, saying it was not an armed revolution.
Ortega warned that the protests are jeopardizing Nicaragua's economic stability.