October 26, 2005

Nicaragua rejects ending president’s immunity

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (Reuters) - Nicaragua's Congress on
Wednesday rejected a lower commission's recommendation to lift
President Enrique Bolanos' immunity and blocked a bid to
prosecute him on election fraud charges.

The rejection was a further easing of a political crisis in
Nicaragua that the United States had called a "creeping coup"
and shielded Bolanos, a U.S ally, from facing accusations of
failing to disclose the origin of campaign funds.

The vote came after Congress last week postponed until
January 2007 reforms that would have weakened Bolanos by giving
Congress jurisdiction to name officials to influential posts.

Now those reforms will come in after Bolanos ends his
five-year term in the poverty-stricken Central America nation.

Bolanos and Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, Cold War
adversary of Washington who led Nicaragua during a 1980s civil
war, agreed to postpone the reforms after a meeting on October

Bolanos had been increasingly isolated since he led an
anti-corruption drive against his presidential predecessor and
former ally, Arnoldo Aleman, now serving a 20-year prison
sentence for fraud and money laundering.

The Constitutional Liberal Party turned its back on Bolanos
after Aleman's imprisonment and the president has had little
support in Congress.

But in Wednesday's vote the Constitutional Liberal Party
rejected the commission's recommendation. The leftist
Sandinistas also did not oppose allowing Bolanos to keep his
immunity from prosecution.

Bolanos, who took power in 2002, claimed he provided
information disclosing the source of his campaign funds and
said the charges were motivated by partisanship in Congress,
dominated by his opponents.

Visiting Nicaragua in early October, U.S. Deputy Secretary
of State Robert Zoellick warned of the threat to Nicaraguan
democracy from a "creeping coup" by Aleman and Ortega.

The alliance between Aleman and Ortega, who is favored to
win elections in late 2006, controls the judicial and
legislative branches of Nicaragua's government.

The United States supported Contra rebels against Ortega's
government in the 1980s. Ortega has lost the last three
presidential votes, but U.S. officials worry he could return to
power next year.