Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega proposes vote on US damages

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega waves supporters during the celebration of the 32nd anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution, 19 July 2011 President Ortega is set to seek re-election in November's presidential poll

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Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega has proposed a referendum on whether to demand $17bn (£10bn) from the US for its role in his country's civil war.

Mr Ortega was addressing supporters on the 32nd anniversary of the Sandinista revolution.

In 1986, the world court ruled the US violated international law by backing the Contras against Mr Ortega's Sandinista government.

But in 1990 the then Nicaraguan government dropped the claim.

A big crowd gathered in the Nicaraguan capital, Managua, on Tuesday to celebrate the 1979 ousting of the country's dictator Anastasio Somoza by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).

President Ortega used the event to propose that a referendum should be held to decide whether to pursue a claim for damages against the US government.

It would be "up to the Nicaraguan people" to decide "if the debt owed by the Yankee state" should be recovered, he said - a debt he put at $17bn.

Campaigning

The claim dates back to 1986 when the International Court of Justice ruled that the US had violated international law by supporting the counter-revolutionaries, the Contras, and by mining Nicaragua's harbours.

Sandinista supporters of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega takes part in celebrations for the 32nd anniversary of the Sandinista revolution on 19 July 2011 Sandinistas thronged central Managua to mark the anniversary

The ICJ ordered compensation to be paid, although it did not fix an amount.

The US government blocked implementation of the ruling and the subsequent Nicaraguan administration of Violeta Chamorro, who was in office from 1990 to 1997, relinquished the claim.

An opposition deputy, Francisco Aguirre Sacasa, said Mr Ortega's proposal was "absurd".

"So people vote, then what? What will be done? Nothing because it is an absurd proposal," he was quoted as saying by Nicaraguan media.

Mr Ortega made his referendum proposal as the country's gears up for November's presidential election in which he will be seeking a third term.

The opposition says his candidacy is illegal, as the constitution forbids seeking consecutive terms.

But in 2009, the Supreme Court said the constitutional ban was "unenforceable" and the electoral court accepted that ruling.

The opposition says both institutions are under the control of judges appointed by the ruling Sandinista Party.

Mr Ortega was elected president in 1984 and remained in office until 1990, when he was defeated at the polls by Mrs Chamorro.

He returned to the presidency after winning the 2006 elections.

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