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Nicaragua's internal dialogue stalls over opposition call for reforms. Managua says demands coincide with US plans to topple Nicaraguan government

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The Nicaraguan government's relations with opposition parties have plunged to a new low in recent days, threatening the hopes of national reconciliation and democracy held out by Central America's peace accord. Fourteen opposition groups from both left and right suspended their 10-week dialogue with the Sandinista government after it refused to accept major reforms to the Constitution the groups consider essential to a democratic system.

This followed a speech by Defense Minister Humberto Ortega Saavedra over the weekend in which he threatened harsh reprisals against opponents who ``go beyond the framework this popular revolution has allowed.''

Meanwhile, the government announced yesterday a two-day Christmas truce and the resumption of peace talks with the contra rebels next week in the Dominican Republic.

The national dialogue has run aground on the opposition's insistence that the Sandinistas agree to 17 reforms to the Constitution. The National Assembly approved the Constitution last year. That charter, Nicaraguan Socialist Party leader Lu'is S'anchez said Tuesday, ``suffers from a series of insufficiencies.''

The opposition parties are demanding, among other things, that the President's powers be limited and that he not be allowed to stand for re-election; that military personnel not be allowed to vote; and that the Constitution draw clear lines between the Army, the ruling party, and the state.

They are also demanding reforms to the electoral tribunal to ensure its impartiality, and guarantees of the judiciary's independence.

Sandinista comandante Carlos Nunez, representing the government in the national dialogue, refused to agree to these reforms, arguing that only the National Assembly is empowered to change the Constitution. But his suggestion that the draft reforms be submitted to the assembly for consideration met with little sympathy among opposition leaders. The Sandinista Front holds 61 of the assembly's 96 seats.

The government is prepared to discuss specific electoral issues, such as a new law for municipalities due to chose local authorities next year. But the opposition says laws drawn up under a flawed Constitution would themselves be flawed.


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