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President Daniel Ortega said he ordered the expulsion of two U.S. diplomats to teach the U.S. government to respect Nicaragua's sovereignty.

Ortega said he acted "so that the United States understands that there is a space that it must respect." The pair, he charged, were "meddling in the country's internal affairs."Ortega spoke Thursday to coffee workers in Matagalpa, 85 miles northeast of the nation's capital.

The Sandinista government announced the expulsions Thursday, saying it believes the diplomats instigated wildcat teachers' strikes.

"This shows the United States government is committed to disobeying the norms of civilized coexistence and is pledged to destabilizing governments, such as the one in Nicaragua," Foreign Minister Miguel D'Escoto said Thursday.

In Washington, the State Department said the charges were "totally false and without any foundation."

"Clearly the government of Nicaragua is embarrassed by the fact that teachers in Nicaragua are on strike against conditions in that country," press officer Dennis Harter said.

He suggested the action was to divert attention from the fact that the teachers' strike is being waged by a pro-Sandinista trade union.

Ortega said Thursday, "We are conscious that (the teachers) are badly paid like the rest of the workers." But he added, "The aggressive U.S. policy is responsible" for Nicaragua's current economic crisis.