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Panama mourns passing of Bush, who ordered country's invasion in 1989

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Panama City (AFP)

The government of Panama expressed its "profound condolences" Saturday over the death of former US president George H.W. Bush, who ordered the US invasion of the Central American country in 1989 to overthrow its then dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega.

Panama "expresses its profound condolences to the Bush family, the government of the United States of America, as well as its people, on the passing of former President George H.W. Bush," said a brief statement from the foreign ministry.

It added the government "conveys its deepest condolences and shares its hope that the strength that characterizes the Bush family and the American people will make it possible to overcome this moment of pain."

Bush, who guided America through the end of the Cold War and launched the international campaign to drive Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait, died Friday at his home in Houston. He was 94.

He also ordered the December 20, 1989 invasion of Panama, codenamed "Operation Just Cause," to overthrow Noriega, indicted on drug-related charges by US courts.

Casualty estimates varied widely after the invasion, with most putting the number of civilians killed between 200 and 500 but some considerably higher.

After an extended standoff, Noriega surrendered to US troops.

Charged with drug trafficking, money laundering and "disappearing" political opponents during his 1983-1989 regime, he was imprisoned successively in the US, France and Panama. He died last year, aged 83, following brain surgery.

Last month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) called on Washington to compensate victims and families of the invasion, accusing US forces of multiple rights violations and calling for reparations.

In response, the US Embassy in Panama said that it "deeply regrets the loss of civilian lives during Operation Just Cause."

But it said the operation was justified because it ousted "brutal dictator Manuel Noriega" and helped turn Panama into "one of the most robust democracies in the hemisphere."

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