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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The Portland Heroes Who Stood Up To Hate

On the surface, Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche appeared to lead very different lives. A retired Army veteran and a married father of four, 53-year-old Best worked for the city of Portland. At 23, Namkai-Meche was a recent college grad who worked at an consulting firm focused on environmental issues. 

What they shared, according to friends and family, was a willingness to put others first and stand up to wrongdoing.

On Friday, Best and Namkai-Mechei were stabbed to death while traveling on one of Portland?s MAX train ahead of Memorial Day Weekend. The men had stood up from their seats to confront a man harassing two teenage girls, one of whom was wearing a hijab. Police say Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, who has ties to white supremacy, targeted the girls for ?religiously and racially motivated reasons.?

?He was saying things about how Muslims should die and how they?ve been killing Christians for years,? Dyjuana Hudson, one of the girls? mothers, said. 

When Best and Namkai-Mechei tried to intervene, along with a third man, 21-year-old Micah David-Cole Fletcher, Christian violently attacked them. Fletcher survived the stabbing but remains hospitalized with serious injuries.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler on Saturday called all three men heroes.

?They were attacked because they did the right thing,? Wheeler said. ?Their actions were brave and selfless and should serve as an example and inspiration to us all.?

?Man, he?s just the best person.?


Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche was a friend who would ?never forget about you,? said Christoper Landt, who grew up with him in Ashland, Oregon.

Landt told The Oregonian/Oregon Live his friend was a voice of reassurance and kindness to those who were struggling, and would look out for others even if it meant putting himself in harm?s way.

?If he knew he was going to die, he still would have done what he did,? Landt said.

?This is a guy who had so many friends and he seemed to have a special connection with every single one,? Landt said. ?We?d all say the same thing: ?Man, he?s just the best person.??

Namkai-Meche graduated in 2016 from Portland?s Reed College, where he studied economics and made a lasting impression on students and teachers.

?He was thoughtful, humble, smart, inquisitive, and compassionate,? Reed religion professor Kambiz GhaneaBassiri said in a statement. ?He was a wonderful human being. As good as they come. And now he is a hero to me.?

Namaki-Meche?s mother, Asha Deliverance, memorialized her son in a statement on Facebook. ?He was a hero and will remain a hero on the other side of the veil. Shining bright star I love you forever,? she wrote. 

Namkai-Meche?s sister, Vajra Alaya-Maitreya, said in a statement to HuffPost on her family?s behalf that her brother ?lived a joyous life.? 

?He was resolute in his conduct and respect of all people. In his final act of bravery, he held true to what he believed is the way forward. He will live in our hearts forever as the just, brave, loving, hilarious and beautiful soul he was.?


?I can?t stand by and do nothing.?

When his friends or family needed aid or comfort, Ricky John Best was often who they turned to. 

?He was always the first person you would go to for help,? Kareen Perkins, one of Best?s colleagues, told The Oregonian/Oregon Live. ?I?ve talked to most of his coworkers today, and several of them said it?s just like Rick to step in and help somebody out.? 

Best, who spent part of his childhood in Salem, Oregon, served 23 years in the Army, retiring as a platoon sergeant for Corps maintenance. After his military service, Best ran for Clackamas County commissioner. 

In a 2014 profile that ran during his campaign, the Oregonian/Oregon Live said that Best ?repeatedly stresses that he stands by his moral convictions, no matter what.?

Best, a Republican, said he entered the non-partisan commissioner?s race because he wanted to seek change in the local government instead of just complain about it. ?I can?t stand by and do nothing,? Best said at the time.

Best also rejected campaign contributions, even from people who wanted to purchase a yard sign to support him in his unsuccessful bid. 

?No one can say I?m in it for the money, because I don?t want it,? Best said.

Best worked as a technician for Portland?s city Bureau of Development Services ? a job friends said he loved because it allowed him to spend more time with his four children. He was reportedly heading to his home in the Portland suburb of Happy Valley when Christian attacked on Friday afternoon. 

?I?m proud of him for standing up.?

Micah Fletcher?s mother, Margie, said she knew her son was the type to standup to wrongdoing ? for better or worse. 

?Micah?s always done that,? she told CNN. ?I?ve always worried about it.?

His mother on Saturday said he was in ?really bad condition.? Fletcher?s neck was punctured, his jaw broken and he had to undergo hours of surgery to remove bone fragments from his throat, according to CNN. 

The Portland State University student is an avid poet whose works have addressed racism, bigotry and social justice. As a high school student in 2013, Fletcher won the Verselandia poetry slam with work that included a poem condemning anti-Muslim hate. 

?I?m proud of him for standing up,? his mother said. ?I?m grateful that he?s here. It?s hard for me to say I want people to stand up, but two girls might be alive because of them.? 

Right Wing Exremeism on the rise 

As tributes to the men poured in over the weekend, politicians, including President Trump, were slow to respond. 

The relative silence over the Portland killings from Trump and his Republican allies has not gone unnoticed ? especially after some of the same politicians failed to rebuke a Montana Republican Congressional candidate who recently became physically violent with a reporter. 

At the same time that Islamaphobic attacks are on the rise in the U.S., with at least 385 documented instances in 2016 alone, attacks by perpetrators who are white, non-Muslim and are confirmed or suspected of holding white supremacist or white nationalist views typically receive less sustained media coverage ? and condemnation from politicians ? than acts perpetrated by a suspect believed to be motivated by an extremist Muslim ideology. 

Up until the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando where a man with views sympathetic to the self-described Islamic State slaughtered 49 people, white supremacists were a greater danger to Americans than foreign terrorists, according to a 2015 study by the New America Foundation, a non-partisan D.C.-based research firm. 

President Donald Trump has drawn criticism since his days as a candidate for his strong anti-Muslim stance and feeble efforts to distance himself from white nationalist and white supremacist supporters ? actions Muslim and other minority group advocates say have fueled more Islamaphobic incidents.  

Destinee Mangum, the 16-year-old girl who was one of the targets of Christian’s rage thanked the three men who stood up for her and her friend.

“I just want to say thank you to the people who put their life on the line for me because they didn’t even know me,” a tearful Mangum said. “They lost their lives because of my friend the way we looked. Without them, we probably would be dead right now.”

On Sunday, veteran newsman Dan Rather posted a message to Facebook calling on Trump to condemn Christian?s alleged actions and recognize the slain and injured men as heroes. 

?This story may not neatly fit into a narrative you pushed on the campaign trail and that has followed you into the White House. They were not killed by an undocumented immigrant or a ?radical Islamic terrorist,?? Rather wrote.  

?This ?extremism? may be of a different type than gets most of your attention, or even the attention in the press. But that doesn?t make it any less serious, or deadly. And this kind of ?extremism? is on the rise, especially in the wake of your political ascendency,? he continued.

?Most people who study these sorts of things do not think that is a coincidence. I do not blame you directly for this incident. Nor do I think other people should. But what a President says, who he has around him, and the tone he sets can set the tone for the nation at large.?  

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