PANAMA CITY, JULY 29 -- Riot troops armed with shotguns and tear gas clashed with student demonstrators at the University of Panama today as the government of strongman Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega sought to regain the initiative from political opponents after they sponsored a successful two-day strike.
Members of the Panamanian Defense Forces' Public Order Company, known as Dobermans, fired birdshot and tear-gas canisters to break up groups of rock-throwing students protesting the shooting death of a classmate Sunday. The students built barricades in the streets around the capital's university campus before the riot troops arrived to disperse the protesters and clear the barriers away.
No serious injuries were reported, although several students were hit by birdshot.
One student, Buenaventura Mayorga, said he and several classmates were hit by the shotgun blasts while trying to "defend" the campus this morning. Mayorga, whose torso was covered with small red puncture wounds, said he was afraid he might be arrested if he went to a clinic.
The students, returning to classes today after a two-day general strike called by the opposition National Civic Crusade, said they were protesting the killing of Eduardo E. Carrera, who was shot by a member of the armed forces early Sunday in the resort town of El Valle de Anton. The military said Carrera was killed when he and a friend scuffled with the two soldiers and tried to grab their guns, but relatives of the dead student said he was shot for shouting, "Down with Noriega" at the patrol.
The incident marked the first confirmed politically related death since the crisis started in early June.
According to Jorge Muriel, the father of Carrera's companion, Edgar Muriel, troops burst into his home in El Valle de Anton on Monday looking for his son, who had gone into hiding. He said they then arrested another son, Marco, and detained him in a nearby town.
In the capital, several thousand government supporters, many of them apparently public employes who were let out of work, thronged the main street of the financial district for a pro-Noriega demonstration. The demonstration in support of the armed forces chief, the third in three days, took place in a carnival atmosphere as bands played salsa music and people danced in the blocked-off street.
"The opposition is like a balloon," said one supporter of Noriega, lawyer Luis Villamonte. "It was inflated for a while, but now it is out of air."