By Ismael Lopez
MANAGUA (Reuters) -Nicaraguan police stormed into the home of opposition leader Cristiana Chamorro on Wednesday, escalating a political battle ahead of elections later this year in which longtime leftist President Daniel Ortega is seeking to hold on to power.
The police placed Chamorro under house arrest, according to Chamorro's brother, journalist Carlos Chamorro, and continued to occupy the property in the capital Managua after raiding it more than five hours earlier, he wrote in a post on Twitter.
Social media and local television broadcast live images of police entering and surrounding Chamorro's home earlier on Wednesday, in which police could be seen using force to eject other journalists who had arrived to cover the scene.
The police action comes in the wake of prosecutors seeking Chamorro's arrest for money laundering and other crimes, according to judicial authorities.
A source close to Chamorro's family said the 66-year-old vice president of Nicaragua's biggest newspaper, La Prensa, was inside her home and could be arrested at any time.
In a statement, Nicaraguan judicial authorities said prosecutors wanted Chamorro detained on suspicion of crimes including money laundering, plus a lesser citation for misrepresentation.
Neither Chamorro nor her representatives could immediately be reached for comment.
A judge in the capital Managua put out the arrest order, acceding to the attorney general's request, the statement said.
The attorney general on Tuesday formally sought Chamorro's disqualification from holding public office due to the criminal investigation launched against her.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken blasted the move in a post on Twitter on Wednesday, saying preventing Chamorro from competing "reflects Ortega's fear of free and fair elections."
She had recently emerged as a possible unity candidate who could possibly rally a fractured opposition to defeat Ortega in the November vote.
The United Nation's human rights chief has accused the attorney general's office of fabricating false allegations against Ortega's critics.
Chamorro is the daughter of Violeta Chamorro, who became president of Nicaragua in a 1990 election, ousting current president Ortega after his first stint in power.
(Reporting by Ismael Lopez; Writing by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Grant McCool, Alistair Bell and Richard Pullin)