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University Students Fight Pitched Battle With Police

July 22, 1987

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ About 600 university students protesting alleged police brutality battled with police for hours here Tuesday. Officers fired shotguns and tear gas to disperse them.

Witnesses, who asked anonymity for fear of reprisals, said an undetermined number of demonstrators were injured, and that at least five vehicles were damaged by rock-throwing students.

Police reports mentioned no arrests or people hurt.

The students began demonstrating in small groups earlier in the day.

They were protesting the government’s failure to investigate charges of police brutality which allegedly occurred when scores of people were arrested earlier this month during riots to demand the ouster of Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, the nation’s strongman.

When armed anti-riots squads showed up, the students sought refuge on the campus of the National University where, by law, police cannot enter. The police surrounded the campus.

University Rector Abdiel Adames told reporters that, to avoid violence, he asked the police to withdraw from the area. The police commander said he would do so on condition the students refrained from demonstrating in the streets.

When the anti-riot squads withdrew a few blocks, the students rushed out and began demonstrating again. They hurled rocks and fought pitched skirmishes with police for blocks around the university campus.

Police squads responded by firing tear gas shells and shotguns, witnesses said.

The National Civic Crusade, a loose coalition of major opposition groups, issued a statement later ″condemning in the strongest terms the repression perpetrated against the university students and a violation of human rights.″

The Crusade, formed by 107 political parties, labor and student unions, business and civic groups opposed to President Eric Arturo Delvalle’s military-dominated administration, has called for a nationwide strike to demand Noriega’s ouster.

It said the 48-hour strike beginning next Monday can be extended indefinitely if Delvalle’s administration does not meet the Crusade’s demands for the ouster of Noriega and an impartial investigation into allegations that he was involved in election fraud, corruption and conspiracy to murder political opponents.

The group said, in a statement released late Monday, it ″will not allow the government together with ... Noriega to lead the country irresponsibly, with a stain of violence and repression, to a moral and economic ruin.″

Shortly after the announcement, the powerful Independent Authentic Teacher’s Union said it would support the strike.

The National Council of Organized Workers, the country’s largest federtion, announced it is not supporting the Crusade’s strike, but in a statement called for ″an urgent national dialogue.″

″The working class believes in a peaceful solution to the present crisis, since an increase in the level of violence would be suicidal for our country, and we the workers are the ones who in the end will pay for it,″ the statement added.

Since last month, Panama has been wracked by violent demonstrations for and against Noriega.

The disturbances began when Noriega’s former second-in-command, Col. Roberto Diaz Herrera, publicly accused the general of corruption, election fraud and conspiracy to murder political opponents. Diaz Herrera accused the general of being involved in the 1981 plane crash death of Noriega’s predecessor, Gen. Omar Torrijos, and the murder of opposition leader Hugo Spadafora in 1985.

Noriega has denied any wrongdoing.

Diaz Herrera failed to respond to three summons from the attorney general’s office to file formal charges.

But on Monday, he appeared at the Third District Attorney’s Office to do so. But he said District Attorney Cecilia Lopez Martin refused to accept the charges and said she wanted him to present them directly to the attorney general.

Also, police reported no developments in their investigation into reports that four gunmen fired shots at the house of former President Arnulfo Arias.

The 85-year-old leader of the Authentic Panamanian Party, was at home at the time of the Sunday night shooting, according to local press reports, but no injuries were reported.

Arias was president in 1940, 1949 and 1968 but was ousted from office each time by military coups.

Opposition leaders charged that widespread electoral fraud deprived him of holding office a fourth time in 1984.

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