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In Nicaragua, Contras and Sandinistas square off

The red and black Sandinista graffiti scrawled on buildings, street lamps and trees in downtown Jinotega makes it seem like this traditionally conservative coffee town has suddenly had a political change of heart. But behind the facade of leftist propaganda, a right-wing rebellion is brewing.

For several months, a group of former contras identified as the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN) has been quietly conspiring against what they call "the second dictatorship of Daniel Ortega."

Group leader Mario Espinoza, who goes by the nom de guerre "Pajarillo," said they are unarmed and that their goals are "peaceful and democratic" -- but that all "depends on the government's attitude."

Espinoza, who already led a rearmed contra group in the 1990s -- the Frente Norte 3-80 -- claims that the FDN is ready to make its presence felt by facing off against the Sandinistas on Saturday during nationwide protest against President Ortega's government.

Unlike other opposition groups, which were forced to flee every time Sandinista mobs attacked protesters on more than 30 occasions over the past year, FDN leaders said they will hold the line.

"This rooster has already been in a fight," Espinoza said of the FDN. "We'll answer a rock for a rock, and we'll see which side backs down first. We are not going to run."

The protest promises to be the largest opposition march of the year. After months of sometimes violent clashes between the Sandinista and its opponents, many fear tensions could erupt into political violence.

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