MANAGUA -- At least three people were injured and 160 were arrested when protesters armed with guns, clubs and stones battled police trying to clear them from a highway, Nicaraguan authorities said Tuesday.
In the brawl, which began at sundown Monday evening and went on until dawn Tuesday, two policemen and one civilian were injured, a spokeswoman for the National Police, Vilma Reyes, told the press.
The fight took place in the northern municipality of Tipitapa after thousands of farmers, storekeepers, employees and small businessmen blocked the highway to demand approval by lawmakers of a moratorium on debt repayments to so-called microlenders.
Police used tear-gas bombs to disperse the demonstrators, who set fire to a number of tires to block traffic and resisted attempts to make them raise the blockade.
Paramedics treated hundreds of local residents including dozens of women and children who were hurt by the tear gas, although none suffered any serious harm.
The leader of the protesters, Omar Vilchez, said on La Primerisima radio that they would continue until Congress approves a debt moratorium and the microlenders suspend for three years asset seizures from delinquent borrowers.
The Nicaraguan Association of Microfinance Institutions said in a communique that the demonstrators want to create more economic problems than those already facing the country.
"It's obvious that this movement has the express intention of destabilizing the economy and the country," said the note released by 22 microlending institutions that serve 559,267 clients in Nicaragua.