Among those detained on Sunday is former Sandinista Health Minister Dora Tellez

Police in Nicaragua have detained five more prominent opposition figures, in what critics say is a crackdown on opponents of the country’s president.

Several former allies of long-time President Daniel Ortega were among those arrested on Sunday.

Police accused them of inciting foreign interference in Nicaragua’s affairs, among other crimes.

About 12 opposition figures, including four hopefuls in November’s election, have been arrested in recent days.

Mr Ortega, 75, is expected to seek a fourth consecutive term in November’s presidential election. But opinion polls suggest his popularity has plummeted after a violent crackdown on anti-government protests in 2018 in which hundreds of people were killed.

In power since 2007, Mr Ortega has been accused of suppressing dissent and political opposition to his rule ahead of the poll.

The police said those held on Sunday were all members of Unamos, an opposition party that is largely made up of dissidents who split from President Ortega’s ruling party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).

The FSLN was a socialist revolutionary movement that swept to power in the Central American nation in 1979.

Among those detained were former Sandinista Health Minister Dora Tellez and retired General Hugo Torres, who fought with Mr Ortega against dictator Anastasio Somoza in the 1970s.

Mr Torres said the opposition would keep fighting against Mr Ortega.

“These are desperate moves by a regime that feels it is moribund, that has no legal standing, that has no justification… to remain in power beyond November of this year when free and supervised elections should be held,” Mr Torres said.

Julie Chung, the top US diplomat for Latin America, called the arrests “arbitrary” and denounced Mr Ortega’s “campaign of terror” in a tweet.

What are they accused of?

Nearly all of those detained have been accused of plotting against Nicaragua’s sovereignty and independence and of organising terrorist acts with financial help from foreign powers.

They have been held under a controversial treason law passed in December by Nicaragua’s National Assembly, which is dominated by government allies.

Under the law, the government has the power to ban candidates from running for office if they are deemed to be traitors to Nicaragua. Anyone designated a traitor can be sent to prison for up to 15 years.

The government says the law aims to protect “the independence, the sovereignty and self-determination” of Nicaragua. It says the country is under threat from imperialist powers in the US and “coup-mongers” within Nicaragua who are determined to overthrow President Ortega.

But critics say the law is designed to stop opposition politicians from standing in the election. The US, the UK and the EU have imposed sanctions on Nicaraguan officials, whom they accuse of undermining democracy.

line