Former Panamanian Strongman Manuel Noriega Dead At 83

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) – Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who spied for the CIA before his drug trafficking and brutal regime sparked a U.S. invasion in 1989, has died aged 83.

President Juan Carlos Varela announced Noriega?s death on Twitter late on Monday, and said his passing marked the closing of a chapter in Panama?s history.

Ruling Panama from 1983 to 1989, Noriega was a longtime collaborator of the Central Intelligence Agency and a useful U.S. ally in a region that was prone to leftist insurgencies.

The invasion ordered by President George H.W. Bush brought an end to his career of money-laundering and cocaine smuggling, in which he worked with traffickers like Colombian Pablo Escobar. He was initially sentenced in the United States in 1992, but was serving a sentence for murder in Panama when he died.

Noriega was let out of prison under house arrest in January to have an operation to remove a brain tumor. The surgery went ahead in early March, but he suffered a hemorrhage, underwent a second operation, and had been in a coma ever since.

A Panamanian government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Noriega died at around 11 p.m. local time in a Panama City hospital after his condition suddenly worsened.

President Varela said Noriega?s family should have the right to bury the former leader in peace.

Most Panamanians had gone to bed by the time the announcement was made close to midnight in the isthmus nation, so local reaction was initially muted.

?We Panamanians must remember the (Noriega) era as something that cannot be repeated in Panama, it was a really painful time for the country because it ended with an invasion,? said Aurelio Barria, a former leader of the Cruzada Civilista, a civil society campaign against the dictatorship.

Born less than a mile from the U.S.-controlled Panama Canal Zone in a tough Panama City neighborhood, Noriega was raised by a family friend. A poor but intelligent youth, his options were limited until a half-brother helped him join the military.

Noriega became head of military intelligence under Omar Torrijos – who had seized power in a 1968 coup – and oversaw the army?s corrupt off-book deals, and ran the secret police force.

Torrijos died in 1981, and as ruler in his own right Noriega hit the headlines as his relations with Washington turned sour, culminating in Washington sending nearly 28,000 troops to seize Panama City and capture him in a house-to-house hunt.

Noriega spent the remainder of his life in custody between the United States, France and Panama for a host of crimes ranging from murder to racketeering and drug-running.

With U.S. officials in the know, Noriega formed ?the hemisphere?s first narcokleptocracy,? a U.S. Senate subcommittee report said, calling him ?the best example in recent U.S. foreign policy of how a foreign leader is able to manipulate the United States to the detriment of our own interests.?

After his capture, Noriega tried to turn the tables on the United States, saying it had worked hand in glove with him.

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Russian Retail Store Displays Sign Reading ‘No Entry For Faggots’

(Please note this story contains language in para 3 that readers may find offensive)

May 26 A chain of Russian food stores run by a devoutly religious nationalist businessman has placed signs in its windows saying gay customers will be refused entry.

Russia decriminalised homosexuality in 1993, two years after the fall of the Soviet Union, and Russian law prohibits sexual discrimination. But prejudices still run deep and much of the gay community remains underground.

?No entry for faggots,? read a wooden plate at the entrance to one of German Sterligov?s shops in central Moscow.

Sterligov, 50, became a millionaire by opening a mercantile exchange shortly before the Soviet Union?s demise. Later in his career he turned devoutly religious and retreated with his family to rural Russia to sell organic farm produce.

?Our planet is full of filth and sick humans,? Sterligov told Reuters Television at a country fair outside Moscow. 

?In front of our eyes is the historical experience of Sodom and Gomorrah when God burned these towns,? he said, referring to a passage from the Old Testament.

Addressing the farm fair through a loudspeaker, Sterligov praised U.S. President Donald Trump, who was swift to revoke his predecessor Barack Obama?s landmark guidance to public schools allowing transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.

?We thank him. May God give him health,? Sterligov said.

Yulia Gorbunova, a Human Rights Watch researcher, said the retail chain?s disregard for the law sent a dangerous message in a country where homophobia remains prevalent.

?It seems like they are promoting homophobia in an already homophobic society and it only leads to rising tensions,? she told Reuters Television. ?The state certainly has a responsibility to stop that and step in.?

Alyona, a young assistant in one of Sterligov?s Moscow stores, said she shared the chain?s stance on homosexuals ?as a true Christian.?

?It?s our guarding talisman,? she said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied he discriminates against sexual minorities. (Reporting by Gennady Novik; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Richard Lough)

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