Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega has reiterated his call for peace during a march to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the 'Repliegue Tactico' (Tactical Retreat) against the dictator Anastasio Somoza.
In the face of violence that has rocked Nicaragua and brought the country's economy to a near standstill since April, Ortega addressed the assembled crowds of thousands on Friday and said: "We are here with open doors."
Flying the red-and-black flags of the Sandinista Front (FSLN), supporters travelled by bus, car, motorcycle and on foot from the capital, Managua, to the department of Masaya in the southeast – a distance of more than 26 km.
Set against the backdrop of a national strike, the procession was a renewed call for national peace after almost three months of riots, blockades and murders instigated by foreign forces seeking to overthrow Ortega's administration.
Addressing the crowds, Ortega said: "Today we are commemorating the 39th anniversary of the retreat. This retreat, in the name of the heroes and martyrs, today we dedicate it to the fight for peace in Nicaragua.
"When we retook the government in 2007, we achieved peace. Now, that peace must be consolidated. Long live peace!"
As many as 351 people are believed to have died since the protests began on April 18 in response to social reforms intended to bridge the national deficit. Those protests were quickly co-opted by U.S.-sponsored right-wing extremists seeking regime change.
In Washington, meanwhile, the Organization of American States (OAS) discussed the situation. Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada rejected the claim "they want to force Nicaragua to change its government by breaking its constitution, breaking the rule of law.
"You cannot strengthen the institutions, you cannot strengthen the democratization of the country based on the need to break the constitution... to impose the will of groups to try to force a change of government."
The march took place on the same day as a 24-hour national strike organized by the opposition Civic Alliance For Justice And Democracy.