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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 August 2007, 06:56 GMT 07:56 UK
Noriega fails to stop extradition
Manuel Noriega
Noriega is wanted in Panama for the murder of a political opponent
A US judge has refused to block the extradition of ex-Panama leader Manuel Noriega to France, where he faces 10 years in prison for money laundering.

A federal judge rejected arguments by Noriega's lawyers that his status as a US prisoner of war negated the request.

Noriega, 72, is due in September to end a 1992 prison term for drug-trafficking and racketeering in Miami.

His lawyer Frank Rubino said Noriega was "very disappointed, very displeased" about the verdict.

Mr Rubino said: "He was hoping that the judge would have done the right thing and sent him back to Panama, his home country, and he's completely disappointed."

Noriega was made a US prisoner-of-war after his arrest during the US invasion of Panama more than 17 years ago.

He is due to appear before US magistrate William Turnoff on Tuesday when the French request for extradition is expected to progress.

In a 12-page decision, Judge William Hoeveler said Noriega's status was not meant "to shield him from all future prosecutions for serious crimes he is alleged to have committed".

The French authorities want his extradition so that he can serve out a sentence on a 1999 money-laundering conviction obtained in absentia.

But Panamanian President Martin Torrijos has said he would like the former military leader returned to Panama to serve a sentence for the murder of a government opponent.

Stalwart supporter

Manuel Noriega was once one of Washington's top allies in Latin America, with close ties to former presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush Senior.

The Panamanian military ruler was seen as a stalwart supporter in the fight against communism and drug-trafficking in the region.

However, in 1988 a Florida court charged Noriega with helping Colombian drug-traffickers smuggle tons of cocaine into the US, and the White House went on to accuse the Panamanian leader of election-rigging and violating human rights.

In 1989, more than 20,000 US troops invaded Panama, ousting and detaining Noriega, who was replaced by Guillermo Endara.

Among arguments used by President Bush to justify the invasion were alleged threats to the lives of US citizens in Panama and the neutrality of the Panama Canal, as well as need to combat the drugs trade.

At least 200 Panamanian civilians were killed as US troops battled Noriega's security forces in an invasion condemned by the Organization of American States. Some researchers have said the overall number of Panamanian deaths numbered several thousand.

Noriega's lawyers say their client is disappointed

Noriega fights France extradition
23 Jul 07 |  Americas
Panama 'wants Noriega extradited'
20 Jul 07 |  Americas
Country profile: Panama
11 May 07 |  Country profiles
No parole for Noriega
21 Mar 00 |  Americas
Timeline: Panama
06 Jun 07 |  Country profiles

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