IN the 1970s, Nicaragua's crumbling capital was the prize sought by revolutionary Marxist guerrillas known as the Sandinistas, a feat they achieved towards the end of the decade. They fought a bloody battle with the then all-powerful Somoza dynasty, which had ruled the Central American nation with an iron fist since 1937.

The group's second coming was an altogether more sombre affair after the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) was elected back into power by the narrowest of margins late in 2006, after ceding control of government in 1991. There was no blood-letting and even the politics had dampened, with then-as-now President Daniel Ortega essentially ditching many of his Marxist principals in favour of an open-arms approach and apparently embracing both capitalism and socialism.

But Nicaragua's leader is now coming under increased fire after he eulogised Manuel Marulanda, the fallen founder and leader of Colombian Marxist rebel group Farc. His popularity has plunged since he took power last January, from an approval rating of 64% just after he took over the reins to 21% just over a year into his presidency. A more recent poll, released last month, showed 64% of Nicaraguans believe Ortega is trying to institute a dictatorship.

Mounting evidence of his sympathies towards Farc in recent weeks appears to have seen the president propel another wave of discontent. Suspicions among his opponents - who already suggested he resign over recent strikes by truck drivers protesting rising fuel prices and riots caused by the increasing cost of food - have also been fermented, while political in-fighting within his own party has reached fever pitch.

After the announcement of Marulanda's death late last month, Ortega was quoted as paying tribute to the man who started Farc (considered a terrorist group in Colombia) in 1964 and led the group during its battles with successive Colombian governments.

"I say to our Farc brothers and sisters that we must carry on battling in order to achieve peace in Colombia," he told reporters in Montevideo on the day Marulanda's death was confirmed.

A breakaway section of the original Sandinista party, which has been heavily critical of the Ortega regime, condemned the recent approach to foreign policy.

"The commander (Ortega) not only makes serious mistakes in the international sphere, but here as well. He is still living in the Cold War era and doesn't seem to have any civilian-style solutions," said Dora Maria Téllez, who fought alongside Ortega in the 1979 revolution that toppled the Somozas.

Although Ortega was earlier known as a firebrand socialist, fears centred on his actions during his first tenure - when he instigated widespread land seizures, stood arm-in-arm with the Soviet Union and fought a proxy war with the United States in the shape of the CIA-financed Contra rebels - were assuaged as he promised he'd learned from past mistakes and displayed a willingness to embrace old foe, the US.

But several incidents earlier this year appear to have cast major doubt over the stability of his stewardship. When the Farc base inside Ecuadorian territory was attacked by the Colombian armed forces on March 1 - killing the group's second in command and chief negotiator, Raul Reyes - Ortega formed a short-lived union with Ecuador and Venezuela, during which diplomatic ties with Colombia were renounced and the Colombian government of Alvaro Uribe condemned for breaching the sovereign territory of a neighbouring country.

Then, only a few weeks before the death of Marulanda, Ortega granted asylum to two of the survivors from the March 1 air strike on the Ecuadorian camp, even renting a Nicaraguan military transport plane to fly them north. The president cited humanitarian reasons for allowing Colombians Doris Torres, 21, and Martha Perez, 24, to enter the country. Another survivor, Mexican Lucia Morett, was similarly offered asylum status in April, but she had claimed she was merely a student visiting the camp.

The move to bring the two Colombians to Nicaraguan soil came amid a series of more controversial allegations over his involvement with Farc. The highly critical national daily newspaper, La Prensa, published a story claiming Ortega was up to his knees in what has been termed "Farc-gate". The newspaper based its assertion on supposed information garnered from a computer said to have been recovered from the site of the Ecuadorian camp attacked in March, and which apparently belonged to Reyes. Emails from the system allegedly contained passages showing Ortega offered to supply old weapons hidden in Nicaragua. The original transcripts had originally been published by Spanish newspaper El Pais. However, some sources in Nicaragua have called the claims fantastical.

The momentum of the Farc allegations come at a time when Ortega has been taking flak over domestic issues such as rising inflation. He had been full of promise earlier in his presidency and, despite the opposition crying foul over his policies, outside forces gave warm, if guarded, appraisals. An upbeat Paul Trivelli, US ambassador to Nicaragua, had previously said it was clear Ortega was willing to play to both galleries, referring to his own country and Venezuela.

But the recent revelations involving Farc have many inside the country worried the co-operative relationship Nicaragua has had with the US could be about to take a turn for the worse.