Government Warns Foreign Reporters Not to Tarnish Panama’s Image
PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ The government, under siege by opposition protests and U.S. criticism, accused foreign journalists of trying to destroy Panama’s image abroad and said it would not tolerate ″disinformation.″
In other developments Wednesday, police fought students with shotguns and tear gas, and pro-government supporters danced in the streets.
The capital has been troubled by unrest since June, when opposition forces took to the streets to demand the ouster of Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, chief of the Defense Forces.
Demonstrations by pro- and anti-government forces have been almost a daily event since retired Col. Roberto Diaz Herrera, formerly Noriega’s second in command, accused him of corruption and involvement in political murders and other crimes.
Noriega, considered the power behind President Eric Arturo Delvalle, denied the accusations.
Diaz Herrera was arrested and jailed by the government on Monday, along with 45 other people at his home.
On Wednesday, Justice Minister Rodolfo Chiari de Leon called reporters working for international news media to a meeting and told them to watch what they wrote.
He made no threats, but in a statement read to the journalists said: ″There are controls established in a state to sanction the abuses of liberty and bad information.″
The statement said the government ″will not tolerate the continuation of the disinformation brought about by some international agencies that seem to be looking, by their conduct, for the destruction of our country’s image aboard.″
The justice minister also said foreign journalists visiting the country would need credentials from the government.
Police fired shotguns and hurled tear gas Wednesday to break up a demonstration by dozens of University of Panama students who blocked the streets and set fire to garbage. The students responded by throwing rocks.
After several hours, police surrounded the campus and students took refuge inside buildings. Witnesses said at least four people were injured, but there were no official injury reports. University rector Abdiel Adames shut down the school indefinitely.
In the city’s main banking district, thousands of Noriega supporters danced in the streets and waved banners throughout the day. Some businesses in the area shut down and sent employees home to avoid confrontations.
Opposition supporters did not turn out Wednesday for their traditional midday demonstration, but they continued banging pots and pans in various parts of the city in a sign of protest. They have been waving white flags, banging pots and honking horns for the past seven weeks to protest the military’s domination of the government.
Diaz Herrera’s lawyer, Alven Weeden, said the Supreme Court on Tuesday night rejected petitions calling for the release of the 46 jailed. The only one the court ordered freed was Norma Nunez Montoto, a reporter for Alasei, a Latin American news agency.
The opposition National Civic Crusade vowed to continue acts of civil disobedience following its general strike Monday and Tuesday.
The Foreign Ministry released a letter sent to the U.S. Embassy saying that diplomatic immunity does not mean diplomats can express public opinions about government decisions. It apparently referred to embassy comments about press censorship in Panama.
The letter said the Panamanian government would consider further critical statements by the U.S. officials ″a hostile action.″
The U.S. Embassy on Monday issued a statement calling on the government to ″end all intimidation of press reporting immediately.″
On Sunday, soldiers closed down the opposition newspapers La Prensa, Extra and El Siglo.