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Russian Warships Visit Cold War Ally Nicaragua

MANAGUA (Reuters) -- Russian officials donated generators and computers to Nicaragua on December 13 during a visit by three Russian warships to the Central American nation that opposition leaders condemned as illegal.

Russia donated about $200,000 worth of equipment to hospitals, police, and the army during the stop at the southern port of Bluefields, General Julio Aviles, the Nicaraguan army's chief of staff, told state radio.

The visit by the antisubmarine destroyer Admiral Chabanenko and two support vessels was the first since the 1990 fall of Daniel Ortega's Marxist Sandinista government, which allied itself with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Ortega, who returned to power in 2007, has courted Russia and has aligned Nicaragua with regional leftists, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The United States, which funded rebel groups opposed to the Sandinistas in the 1980s, suspended a $175 million aid program to Nicaragua earlier this month, citing concerns over November's municipal elections, which Ortega's opponents say were rigged.

The Russian naval tour, which includes another old Cold War ally, Cuba, as well as Venezuela, is part of Moscow's bid to rebuild its global influence.

Opposition politicians protested the visit, arguing foreign military forces were forbidden from entering Nicaragua without the approval of the National Assembly.

Ortega requested authorization for the visit earlier in the week, but opposition lawmakers refused to allow the National Assembly to sit.

The Russian ships arrived in Nicaragua late on Friday and were scheduled to depart early on December 14.