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Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega dead at 83

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Manuel Antonio Noriega, who took power in Panama in 1983 and was ousted by US forces in 1989, died late Monday in Panama City. He recently underwent an operation after suffering a hemorrhage following brain surgery, due to tumor, BBC/AFP

The announcement was made by government communications secretary Manuel Dominguez.

Noriega was released from prison in January to allow him to prepare for the operation. He was jailed in Panama for murder, corruption and embezzlement.

Noriega suffered from vascular ailments and was using a wheelchair, was released into house arrest in January to prepare for an operation in early March to remove a brain tumor.

Although he was never the actual president of Panama, General Noriega was the key figure from 1983 to 1989, and a key US ally in Central America for four decades.

The former military ruler was jailed following the US invasion of Panama in 1989: 20 years in a US prison, sent to France, sentenced to seven years for money laundering, then extradited from France to Panama to serve his sentence in 2011.

President Juan Carlos Varela tweeted: “The death of Manuel A Noriega closes a chapter in our history; his daughters and relatives deserve a funeral in peace.”

This strong supporter of the United States, became a key ally in Washington’s attempts to battle the influence of communism in central America.

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But the US tired of his increasingly repressive role internally in Panama, and there were indications he was selling his services to other intelligence bodies, not to mention drug-trafficking organisations.

Noriega was indicted in a US federal court on drug-trafficking charges in 1988 and, after US observers declared he had stolen the 1989 election, President George HW Bush launched the “Operation Just Cause” invasion, sending in nearly 28,000 troops.

Noriega sought refuge in the Vatican’s diplomatic mission in Panama City, and US troops flushed him out by playing deafening pop and heavy metal music non-stop outside.

Noriega’s life, with apologetic end

Born in Panama City on 11 February 1934

Studies at a military academy in Peru. Begins a three-decade relationship with the CIA

Backs Gen Omar Torrijos in the coup that topples President Arnulfo Arias in 1968

Rises in influence after mysterious plane-crash death of Gen Torrijos in 1981, becoming de facto ruler in 1983

Plays key role in mid-1980s Iran-Contra affair, which involves smuggling weapons and drugs to aid US undercover efforts to support forces opposing the Sandinistas government in Nicaragua

Ousted in 1989 after US invasion and jailed in US

US trial reveals he wore red underwear to ward off the “evil eye”

In Panama’s El Renacer prison in 2014, unsuccessfully sues company behind the video game, Call of Duty: Black Ops II for using his image without permission

By 3 January 1990, Noriega surrendered and was flown to the US to face drug-trafficking, money-laundering and racketeering charges, serving 17 years in jail there.

While in prison he was convicted in absentia in France of money-laundering and sentenced to seven years.

After the US extradited him to France, a court there approved a request from Panama in December 2010 to send him back home, where he was convicted again.

In an interview on Panamanian TV two years ago, Noriega read out a statement of apology.

He said: “I apologise to anyone who feels offended, affected, harmed or humiliated by my actions or those of my superiors whilst carrying out orders, or those of my subordinates, during the time of my civilian and military government.”

A US Senate sub-committee once described Washington’s relationship with Noriega as one of the United States’ most serious foreign policy failures.

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Jean Baptiste Karegeya

 

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