An opposition campaign rally Sunday turned into a riot in which one person was killed and more than 20 people injured. Foreign observers blamed the violence on Sandinista provocateurs.
The violence lasted four hours and was the worst of the campaign leading to general elections set for Feb. 25. Foreigners said the clashes raised doubts the balloting would be held without incident.Opponents and supporters of the ruling Sandinistas fought with machetes, knives, broken bottles, rocks and sticks in this town 30 miles south of Managua. The local Sandinista Front headquarters was sacked, and two vehicles were burned.
Manuel Guevara Calero, 38, of the nearby village of La Concepcion was stabbed to death. Reports in pro-government newspapers Monday quoted his mother, Hilda Calero, and an unidentified relative as blaming supporters of the National Opposition Union, or UNO.
"I came here assuming that there would be free and open elections," said Robert Beckel of the Washington-based Center for Democracy, a bipartisan group invited to observe the electoral process. "You can't witness what we saw today and believe there's any way there'll be a fair election in this country."
The opposition has accused Sandinista gangs of disrupting earlier opposition rallies.
Sunday's fighting broke out during a rally organized by the UNO when a group of about 20 Sandinista loyalists and opposition followers exchanged insults and then blows in this town of 15,000 people.
Beckel and an opposition organizer, Jeremias Mahmud, said a series of provocations by Sandinista supporters sparked the riot.
Lt. Fernando Montoya, Masatepe police chief, said he had been ordered to keep police away from the rally.