President Bush on Saturday urged Panama's citizens, including the armed forces, to "do everything" to oust the country's military leader, Manuel Antonio Noriega, from office.
"The will of the people should not be thwarted by this man and his Doberman thugs," Bush told reporters on Air Force One."The Panamanian people should do everything to get him (Noriega) out of office," he said. Bush ruled out using U.S. troops to back a coup attempt.
Bush, saying that "could well be an answer," also indicated he was willing to accept exile for Noriega, who is under U.S. indictment for drug trafficking, to a country with which the United States does not have an extradition treaty.
Washington has accused Noriega of stealing last Sunday's Panamanian elections from political opponents.
Bush, who was enroute to an address at Mississippi State University in Starkville after speaking earlier in the day at Alcorn State University in Lorman, Miss., declined to back off his statement about ousting Noriega.
When reporters suggested his remarks might be seen as inflammatory, Bush replied: "I would add no words of caution."
"The will of the people should be implemented," he added.
Asked if the Panama Defense Force should try to oust Noriega, Bush replied: "I would love to see them (military) get him out. We'd like to see him out of there, not just the PDF, (but) the will of the people."
White House aides acknowledged that the Bush statement amounted to calling for a coup, but insisted the move was justified because Noriega was illegally in power.
In Panama, newly arrived American troops increased security at Howard Air Base and other installations Saturday under the roar of military jets bringing in more men and supplies.
Vice presidential candidate Guillermo Ford said the opposition will issue a call for a one-day general strike Wednesday "to show the will of the Panamanian people."
The stoppage is to coincide with a meeting of the Organization of American States in Washington to discuss the Panamanian situation. Ford said the Panamanian opposition would be represented.
In his chat with reporters in Mississippi, Bush said he had no immediate plans to further increase the size of the U.S. troop contingent in Panama.
He also emphasized that American military forces in Panama would not be used to back a coup attempt.
Bush said that if Noriega went to a country that would extradite him, he would insist that the military leader be sent to the United States to stand trial.
The estimated 10,000 American troops already stationed in Panama have been ordered to avoid public areas except on official business following violence after last Sunday's presidential election and its subsequent nullification.
Not everybody heeded the advice. Early Saturday, two U.S. servicemen arrived at the apartment of their Panamanian girlfriends intent on going to a disco.
One, who has been in Panama two years, said he does it every weekend. "All that stuff you see on TV, I've never seen any of it," he said.
He said the best time to move in the capital was during meal hours when there were fewer Panamanian police checkpoints. American troops can legally move about Panama City but frequently are harassed by police and paramilitaries.
On Thursday Bush had said he would not drop the drug charges as an inducement to get Noriega to leave Panama.