efe-epaManagua

The president of Nicaragua has denied that he has used repressive measure to suppress protests and said he did not feel responsible for the deaths that have taken place on the streets in his country during the last months, choosing instead to blame the United States and the international drugs trade for financing, backing and arming violent groups.

Daniel Ortega, in an exclusive interview with EFE in Managua that was published on Tuesday, considered the protests as a criminally-inspired attempted coup d'etat aimed at ousting him from power.

"Nicaragua has been punished because the US does not consider the Sandinista National Liberation Front (the FSLN is Ortega's political party) to be democratic and hence they immediately began to organize armed groups against us," Ortega said.

International humanitarian organizations have estimated that more than 400 people have died in the protests, and human rights groups that have denounced the repression have been expelled from Nicaragua.

These condemnations have been backed by intellectuals such as Nicaraguan author Sergio Ramírez, the most recent Cervantes Prize winner and a former vice president to Ortega in a Sandinista government.

"Police and paramilitary forces armed with war rifles have acted in unison against an unarmed population," Ramírez had said.

Ortega denied this.

"He knows he's using his ability as a storyteller," responded Ortega. "He is a great storyteller and is making a macabre story out of what is a tragedy that our people are living through," Ortega said.

The president blamed the US directly for what he considers to be a history of interventionism in the politics of Central America and, especially, Nicaragua.

"They have not shown any respect to the people of Nicaragua, but have permanently interfered, in a bid to force the people to favor their chosen candidates," he said.

"It is very clear, we came back to government and the US' hostility rekindled," Ortega said, adding that the first indication of this was how Nicaragua was ejected from the Millennium Challenge account that was part of an agreed project with the previous government to place funds throughout Central America," Ortega said.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation has since its foundation in 2004 played a role in helping fight poverty and trigger economic growth in Latin America.

According to Ortega, much unsettling activity has originated from what he described as the far right in Florida.

"It has been an umbilical cord that has persisted since the early days of the Contra war," said Ortega.

Ortega flatly denied that there were Sandinista paramilitaries and said that the only armed groups were those that protest against his government.

He denounced the humanitarian organizations that have condemned his forces for shooting at protesters.

"That's a big lie, I saw the protests on television because they were being broadcast, and what happened there was a charge by an armed group against protesters in Avenida Bolivar, an armed attack," Ortega said.

"How do you explain the 22 police officers killed by peaceful protesters?" he asked. "What about the hundreds of Sandinistas who died, who were kidnapped from their homes and murdered, those who were burned. How do we explain all this?" Ortega added.

The president also rebutted the denunciations of the European Union, the UN and the Organization of American States, which have accused his government of repression, arbitrary arrests and torture, saying that such condemnations were conditioned by the USA.

By Fernando Garea and Sabela Bello