Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega describes the deadly protests raging in his country as "terrorism" and is rejecting calls to step down to defuse the clashes.
Speaking exclusively with Fox News' Bret Baier on Monday, Ortega blamed the violence on paramilitary groups funded by drug trafficking, opposition groups and even the US. He said they are attacking police, his government and loyal Sandinista families.
Ortega added that there has been a "campaign of lies, terrible lies, to try to hurt the image of Nicaragua and of its government."
Human rights groups say that at least 286 people have died since the unrest began in mid-April, when the government announced controversial changes to the social security system, kicking off the largest street protests Nicaragua has seen since its civil war ended in 1990.
The government's heavy-handed response to demonstrations ignited a national movement demanding the President's resignation.
When pressed by Baier about whether he would step down to "end the violence and to help your country," Ortega refused, saying he was democratically elected.
He also ruled out holding early elections, which Catholic Church mediators had called for to defuse the crisis, saying that it "would create instability and insecurity and make things worse." Ortega's third consecutive term is not scheduled to end until 2021.
"We are not talking about any dynasty. It never occurred to me to set up a dynasty," Ortega said, defending his presidency and his wife's role as vice president.
Ortega also flatly denied recent reports of protesters being killed inside a church.
"No Nicaraguan has died in any church. That's false," Ortega said, also rejecting claims that he has sought to undercut the Catholic Church, seeing it as backing the protests.
The Catholic Church has been serving as a mediator in the stalled talks between the government and protesters.
When asked what his message to the US was, Ortega said: "The history of our relationship with the United States has been painful. I don't want to repeat it."
"We deserve respect as any state of the US deserves respect no matter how small that state of the union is. We are a country in this hemisphere, in this part of the world and we have strong links of all types with the American people," he added.