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Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega reportedly approved the changes to pensions that will see contributions for workers and employee increased while overall benefits will be cut by five percent.

During the protests, which have increasingly spread from the capital to other parts of the country, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets on demonstrators maintaining barricades and throwing rocks. They appear to have expanded to include broader anti-government grievances.

But top Nicaraguan business lobby COSEP has backed peaceful protests against the government, and said it would not enter talks with Ortega to review the social security plan until he had ended police repression and restored freedom of expression.

He also seemed to try to justify what has been a heavy-handed response by the government and allied groups, accusing demonstrators, majority university students, of being manipulated by unspecified "minority" political interests and of being infiltrated by gangsters.

The Red Cross said at least seven people had died and hundreds had been injured in the demonstrations, while a local human rights organization said it had registered 25 deaths.

"What is happening in our country has no name".

State-controlled media blamed protesters for the looting, while critics speculated that it was being allowed in order to pressure the business sector, which has set conditions for talks with the government, including an end to the harsh crackdown.

The president criticized the demonstrators, comparing them with gangs that bleed the north of Central America and said that his only interlocutor to get out of the crisis was private enterprise.

"This is the release of a series of troubles that have been building among the people", sociologist and analyst Melvin Sotelo said, "and social security is the drop that overflowed the glass". "We can not allow for chaos, crime and looting to prevail", Ortega added in his televised address.

But protester Mauri Hernandez said: "There have been dead, wounded, and he does not even apologise for his killings, ' adding Mr Ortega 'must go".

Journalist Angel Gahona was shot dead while reporting live on unrest in the strife-torn country of Nicaragua.

A Nicaraguan police officer aims his weapon at protesting students during a third day of violent clashes in Managua.

He said he's expressing "closeness in prayer to that beloved country" and joining local bishops in seeking an end to "every violence, that useless bloodshed is avoided and that open issues are resolved peacefully and with a sense of responsibility".


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