Nicaragua's richest and most influential businessman appealed Wednesday for presidential elections to be moved forward from 2021 in a bid to calm unrest that has left scores dead since last month.
The comments by Carlos Pellas came as a surprise as the powerful industrialist and other business leaders have traditionally supported President Daniel Ortega.
"From my point of view, and it is something largely shared in the private sector, we must find an orderly way out of this, in a constitutional way, which implies reforms including a (presidential) election moved forward" from 2021, he said in an interview with newspaper La Prensa.
At least 87 people have been killed and almost 900 wounded since protests began on April 18 against Ortega and his party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front.
The protests were initially triggered by now-aborted reforms to the near-bankrupt social security system, but the unrest quickly broadened into a rejection by many Nicaraguans of Ortega and his wife and vice-president, Rosario Murillo, who are seen as autocratic.
The government and opposition agreed overnight Monday to resume church-mediated peace talks that stalled amid fresh violence last week.
Pellas, Nicaragua's first billionaire and who controls the vast Grupo Pellas empire, proposed that a new election date be decided during that dialogue.
He called for members of the national electoral council, which is controled by judges close to Ortega, to "resign immediately."
Ortega must "show the willingness to dialogue and accept fundamental changes", said Pellas, 65, who has not previously spoken out publicly about the crisis.
Ortega, a former guerrilla who first ruled between 1979 and 1990 before returning as president 11 years ago, has kept power by maintaining leftist rhetoric while ensuring an accommodation with powerful private industry and keeping up trade with the United States.
"I am outraged and very hurt by the more than 80 lives sacrificed and by the more than 800 wounded caused by the disproportionate violence with which the government responded to the demands of students and the general population," said Pellas.
"These crimes cannot go unpunished."
Pellas, seen here on the right with Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim (C), has called for early elections in Nicaragua
The unrest that began last month has left at least 87 people dead