MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- A dozen people protesting inside a church and the parish priest were evacuated from the building Friday by the Nicaraguan Red Cross after nine days surrounded by police, relatives said.
The demonstrators had been on a hunger strike to demand the release of loved ones they say are political prisoners for taking part in protests against President Daniel Ortega’s government.
Police had maintained a tight cordon around the building, preventing anyone from coming or going or delivering aid, and water and electrical service were cut to the area. Priest Edwin Roman, who is diabetic, was said to be unable to refrigerate his medicine following the cutoff.
Local media posted videos online of the moment when the protesters left and immediately boarded a Red Cross ambulance. Román was last to exit and got into a black pickup.
José Merlo, the father of jailed protester Scarnieth Merlo, said his wife, Diana Lacayo, and the others were taken from the San Miguel Arcangel church in the city of Masaya to a private hospital in the capital, Managua, to the northeast.
He added that the hunger strike ended with the evacuation, without their loved ones having been freed.
Flor de Marísa Vargas, one of the hunger strikers, said the protest would be suspended “for a few days but we continue in our struggle for our children’s freedom.”
María Gómez said they had been subsisting on intravenous fluids and decided to call the protest off “to not risk the life of Father” Román.
The standoff at the church has grabbed headlines since the protest began last Thursday.
Nicaragua has been at a political stalemate for over a year and a half after protests erupted demanding Ortega leave office. Government officials accuse opponents of “terrorism” and attempted coup d’etat.
After security forces and armed civilian groups cracked down on the demonstrations, at least 328 people were killed, more than 2,000 wounded, hundreds detained and some 88,000 fled into exile, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Alberto Cabezas of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Mexico and Central America said the organization, which is separate from the local Red Cross, was not involved in the evacuation.