Military leader Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, marking his fifth anniversary as head of the Panama Defense Forces with little sign of planning to step down, said Friday the United States was going to have to put up with him.
In a speech during a military and popular celebration of the anniversary, Noriega told Washington to "keep your hands off of Panama," and referring to himself in the third person, said: "Forget about Noriega. Maybe Noriega is better than what is to come. Therefore, it's preferable to put up with Noriega."Noriega addressed military and civilian dignitaries and thousands of supporters gathered at a Panamanian air base for the anniversary celebration that included a military parade and a 21-gun salute.
The anniversary had been surrounded by speculation that Noriega might offer his resignation as commander-in-chief of the 16,000-member Panama Defense Forces or announce he would run for president in elections scheduled for May 1989.
The Reagan administration, which is backing moves to force its former ally out of power, tried to negotiate a deal last May by which Noriega would step down on this date in exchange for the dropping of two Florida federal grand jury indictments against him on drug trafficking charges.
But the talks collapsed and U.S. policy, as well as the opposition movement in Panama, have fallen into disarray.
Despite speculation in the local press that Nor-iega might announce his candidacy for president during the ceremony, the 50-year-old general's only reference to the elections was to repeat his assurances that they would be honest.