Ortega tightens grip on Nicaragua

Managua (AFP) - Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega won even more control over the levers of his nation when 28 opposition lawmakers were ousted from parliament by electoral authorities.

The move meant "all formalities and pillars of representative democracy have been eliminated; we are face-to-face with a dictatorship," charged an ex-lawmaker, Jose Pallais.

Ortega, a former leftwing rebel seen as an authoritarian leader, is standing for re-election to a third term in November elections.

He is expected to win in the face of an increasingly fragmented opposition.

The Supreme Electoral Council on Friday ordered the 28 opposition lawmakers out to make way for other deputies selected by the opposition Independent Liberal Party (PLI in Spanish).

Last month, Nicaragua's Supreme Court ordered a change in leadership of the PLI, divesting Eduardo Montealegre and replacing him with the little-known Pedro Reyes Vallejos after years of dissidents mounting lawsuits.

The lawmakers ousted Friday, including two from the smaller MRS party, were loyal to Montealegre. The new PLI ones will be selected by Reyes.

Ortega's Sandinistas hold a majority of 63 seats in the 91-seat Congress.

"Nicaragua is seeing its democratic life dismantled," said Victor Hugo Tinoco, a former deputy foreign minister and a dissident Sandinista.

The MRS issued a statement saying Ortega has clearly shown he plans on making the country a "single party" state that threatens all Nicaraguans who don't toe the government line.

Ortega has said he will not permit foreign observers in to monitor the November 6 presidential and legislative elections.