Sandinistas back down to clergy

Nicaragua's Sandinista leadership and the Roman Catholic Church here were eyeball to eyeball this week - but the Sandinistas have blinked.

The government April 6 reversed its original order that the church postpone its Good Friday mass from the traditional morning hour to late in the afternoon.

The announcement eased mounting church-state tensions here. And junta member Sergio Ramirez Mercado appeared to go step a further toward cooling church tempers when he said the Sandinista government has no intention of interfering with legitimate religious activity.

The government backed down as a determined Roman Catholic hierarchy was planning to hold the mass in defiance of the Sandinista order. Its order came in the wake of a previous decision by the Sandinistas to cancel the normal semana santa vacation week before Easter.

The government had argued that holding the mass at 9 a.m. would interfere with Friday morning work. And it said the cancellation of vacation was necessary because of the imminent threat of invasion by the United States. But government's moves prompted an outcry in Nicaragua.

One government source admitted being surprised by the size of the protest. ''It was more than we expected,'' he said.

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