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Panama's former military dictator Manuel Noriega dies at 83

Manoocher Degathi, AFP | Panama’s former leader General Manuel Antonio Noriega fakes a punch to a supporter on May 2, 1989, in Panama City.

Panama's former military dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega has died at the age of 83 following a brain tumour operation earlier this year, a government spokesman said on Tuesday.


The announcement was made by government communications secretary Manuel Dominguez. Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela also announced the death on Twitter late Monday.

Noriega, who ruled Panama from 1983 to 1989, spied for the Central Intelligence Agency until the United States invaded and toppled his corrupt government, ending a long criminal career that saw him working with drug traffickers including Pablo Escobar.

Panamanian President Varela wrote on his Twitter account that "the death of Manuel A. Noriega closes a chapter in our history".

Noriega had been serving prison time for murder and forced disappearances during his dictatorship when he died and was being held in a prison cell overlooking the Panama Canal. He was granted temporary release on February 28 to undergo the medical procedure.

Following years of ill health that included respiratory problems, prostate cancer and depression, Noriega's family pleaded with authorities to allow him to serve the rest of his sentence under house arrest.

But the government rejected their appeals, and said Noriega would return to prison once he recovered from the brain tumour surgery.

Imprisoned in the US, France

Noriega was toppled in a December 1989 US military invasion, surrendering to US troops in January 1990. He served a 17-year sentence in the United States after being convicted on drug-trafficking and money-laundering charges in 1992.

In 2010 Noriega was extradited to France, where he was convicted for laundering some €2.3 million in drug money through French banks during the 1980s.

The following year Noriega was extradited to Panama, where he was jailed for the 1985 murder of a political opponent, the murder of a military officer in 1989 who attempted a coup against him and for the massacre of soldiers rebelling against him.

Other cases were pending against him for the disappearance of people before he came to power, when he headed Panama's National Guard.

In 2015 Noriega offered a public apology "to anybody who felt offended, affected, prejudiced or humiliated by my actions".

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

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