The official observers to Panama's elections briefed President Bush Tuesday on what they are calling fraudulent balloting and discussed options ranging from military action to stepped up economic sanctions.
"He didn't leave anything out of the discussion. Every conceivable range of options was discussed," said Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who headed the delegation. Former President Jimmy Carter, who led another observer group, was to meet with the president Tuesday night to give his report on the Sunday elections.Bush has not yet said what, if any, further action he would take to try to force Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega from power if Sunday's election was rigged by the military strongman.
In Panama City, Carter told a news conference Monday night he was made to feel unwelcome after he accused Noriega of stealing Sunday's election from opposition candidate Guillermo Endara.
Government candidate Carlos Duque denounced what he called "obvious American intervention in affairs that only concern Panama and the abuse by observers of Panamanian hospitality."
Duque also was referring to a delegation of observers sent by Bush that concluded Noriega's soldiers intimidated voters and carried out widespread fraud.
"The delegation cannot certify that the election was a free and fair election," said Murtha, D-Pa.
Carter said he discovered proof of fraud when he examined vote tallies being tabulated at the election center. He confronted election officials, and his relationship with the government quickly deteriorated, he said.
Carter said the military had seized thousands of vote tally sheets in a nighttime sweep. "During the day those records have been discarded and counterfeit documents have been substituted," he said.
Both Murtha and Carter cited a Roman Catholic Church exit poll that gave Endara a 3-1 margin over Duque as evidence of a sweeping opposition win.
The Panamanian Committee for Human Rights, which invited 279 observers from 21 nations, also condemned the election as fraudulent.
As of late Monday, following a rally in Panama City that was broken up by gunfire from riot-equipped policemen, both sides claimed victory in the election. The opposition party also charged fraud by Noriega forces.
The United States has been frustrated for more than a year in its bid to force Noriega, who is under U.S. indictment on drug charges, from power through political pressure, military intimidation and economic sanctions.