The government issued an arrest warrant for deposed President Eric Arturo Delvalle, saying he will be charged with crimes against the state and the nation's economic security.
In another development, the government offered to hold church-mediated talks with the political opposition. The offer came after police fired birdshot to break up an anti-government rally by 50 people on Wednesday. Two U.S. soldiers were briefly detained near the site of the protest.Delvalle has been in hiding since Feb. 26, when he was removed from office after trying to fire Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega as head of the 15,000-strong Defense Forces. Noriega is the power behind the civilian government.
The United States, which still recognizes Delvalle as president, responded to his ouster by imposing economic sanctions on Panama in a bid to drive out Noriega, who was indicted in the United States on drug trafficking charges.
The sanctions forced Panama's banks to close, and Noriega has not been able to make the government payroll. Food and cash are in short supply.
The government announced Wednesday night that it had issued arrest warrants for Delvalle and for Gabriel Lewis Galindo, a businessman and former ambassador to the United States. The government said a warrant was issued earlier for Juan B. Sosa, Delvalle's ambassador to Washington who has remained there.
In another development Wednesday, the United States completed deployment of 1,300 extra troops to beef up security for American personnel and property in the canal zone. An additional 800 Marines are to begin arriving Friday for what the White House called three weeks of routine jungle training that had been planned before the campaign to oust Noriega plunged Panama into crisis.
Panama has called the deployment a prelude to invasion.
The arrest warrants were announced Wednesday night by government prosecutor Alvaro Visuetti on military-controlled Channel 2 television.
He said an investigation had uncovered sufficient evidence to charge Delvalle with crimes against the state, usurping public duties and crimes against the nation's economic security.
Earlier Wednesday, acting President Manuel Solis Palma said the government had agreed to Roman Catholic Church-mediated talks with the opposition, which has been trying to oust Noriega since June.
In a letter to Archbishop Marcos McGrath, Solis Palma said the meeting should be held "without preconditions or irreconcilable demands." He said the general had named him to head the government mediation effort.
The opposition has said that, before entering such talks, it wants assurances that Noriega is willing to step down and leave the country. It had no immediate response to Solis Palma's letter.