By Alix Hardy
Pro-government forces launched a violent attack on the rebel stronghold city of Masaya on Tuesday amid growing international calls to end violence in Nicaragua.
“They are attacking Monimbo! Bullets are reaching the Maria-Magdalena parish church, where the priest is sheltered," auxiliary bishop of Managua Silvio Baez tweeted in reference to an indigenous neighborhood of Masaya.
Trucks filled with heavily-armed policemen and paramilitary forces were filmed entering Masaya early Tuesday.
On videos posted on social media, strong and continuous firing could be heard.
Three months into protests that have demanded the president to step down, the government launched a so-called “Operation Clean-up” to try to remove the barricades and retake full control of urban areas.
Authorities say that protesters are attempting to stage a coup against the administration of .
Washington “strongly” reacted to the attack on Tuesday. “We strongly urge President Ortega not to attack Masaya”, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Francisco Palmieri wrote on Twitter.
“Continued government-instigated violence and bloodshed in Nicaragua must end immediately. The world is watching,” he added.
On Monday, various international organizations called on Ortega to stop the violence.
In a letter to Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada, EU chief diplomat Federica Mogherini said the European Union was expecting “the immediate end of violence, repression and arbitrary detentions as well as the respect of fundamental freedoms.”
UN Secretary-General said via his spokesman that “the use of lethal force is not only unacceptable but is also in itself an obstacle to obtaining a political solution to the current crisis.”
Anti-government protests and the repression that ensued in Nicaragua have killed more than 280 and wounded more than 1,800, according to the UN High Commissioner.
Protests began April 18, when the government announced a social security reform on pensions.
Ortega backed down a few days later but the unrest continued.
More protests took place to ask for Ortega's resignation and his wife, who is the country’s vice president, after 11 years in power.
They are accused of turning Nicaragua into a dictatorship.