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Panama's ex-ruler Noriega taken to hospital

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 6:51 PM EST, Sun February 5, 2012
Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noreiga arrives at the El Renacer prison near Panama City in December.
Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noreiga arrives at the El Renacer prison near Panama City in December.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Manuel Noriega was moved because of hypertension, possible stroke, police say
  • He was transferred from prison, where he was sent for crimes committed in office
  • Noriega returned to Panama late last year after 22 years in French, U.S. prisons

(CNN) -- Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who is serving time in prison for crimes committed during his rule, was taken to a hospital, Panamanian police said Sunday.

He was moved to the Panama City hospital because of hypertension and a possible stroke, they said, citing his medical team. He is 77.

Noriega returned to Panama late last year, nearly 22 years after U.S. forces forcibly removed him from office. He previously served time in French and American prisons.

He was convicted in absentia in Panama, where officials want Noriega to face justice in the killings of Hugo Spadafora, his political opponent, and at least one other person.

For almost 20 years, Noriega was a major player in a country of critical regional importance to the United States because of its location on the Panama Canal, the key strategic and economic waterway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans on the narrow isthmus linking the Americas.

Amid growing unrest in Panama, then-U.S. President George H.W. Bush ordered the invasion of Panama in December 1989, saying Noriega's rule posed a threat to U.S. lives and property. Noriega fled his offices and tried to seek sanctuary in the Vatican Embassy in Panama City. He surrendered in January 1990 and was quickly escorted to the United States for civilian trial.

Noriega was indicted in the United States on charges of racketeering, laundering drug money and drug trafficking. He was accused of having links to Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar's notorious Medellin cartel and, in the process, amassing a multimillion-dollar fortune.

He was convicted of drug trafficking and other crimes in the United States.

While in U.S. custody, he suffered from prostate cancer and a stroke.

In 2010, a French court sentenced Noriega to seven years in prison for laundering 2.3 million euros ($2.9 million) through banks there. A French court authorized his extradition to Panama.

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