PANAMA CITY, FEB. 28 -- Panamanian opposition leaders worked today to organize a strike starting Monday to protest the military's ouster of President Eric Arturo Delvalle, who spent a second day in hiding.

Organizers of the strike said they were trying to enlist support by word of mouth in the absence of opposition news media, which have been shut down in police raids this month. The organizers said they expected the strike to start slowly, especially among shopkeepers.

The strike, the duration of which so far has not been determined, is to be the opposition's first major protest action since the country's military strongman, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, was indicted Feb. 5 by two federal grand juries in Florida on drug-trafficking and racketeering charges.

Strike organizers said they accelerated plans for the stoppage when Delvalle was ousted as president early Friday after having ordered the dismissal Thursday of Noriega as commander of the 15,000-member Panama Defense Forces.

Noriega rejected the order and had Delvalle replaced as president by Manuel Solis Palma in a vote by the National Assembly.

Delvalle early yesterday fled his home, where he had been under virtual house arrest, and the military gave him an ultimatum to leave the country by noon. Delvalle refused, remaining in hiding today at an undisclosed location.

Delvalle's brother-in-law, Raul Diaz, told reporters who visited the deposed president's house today that Delvalle and his wife, Mariela, are each ensconsed "in a safe place."

He said Delvalle "plans to remain in the country as president of the country," but that his main activity now was "trying to look for the backing of the international community for his presidency."

{In an interview at his home in Washington, former Panamanian ambassador to the United States Gabriel Lewis said Delvalle had been hidden by a "humble Panamanian family" and that he had been in touch with Lewis by telephone.

{He said Delvalle had delivered a message to him warning industrialized nations that any financial assistance "to the illegitimate government of General Noriega will not be recognized by the constitutional government of Panama." Delvalle and opposition leaders are lobbying for a trade embargo against Panama as a means of toppling Noriega.}

As Diaz spoke, workers carried paintings and other furnishings from the four-bedroom ranch-style house as Delvalle's friends inside took inventory.

"They {the Delvalles} are not thinking of abandoning the country," Diaz explained. "We fear that the military or mobs will be sent to this house to destroy it."

In an interview with CBS' 60 Minutes, Noriega said that there had been no need for Delvalle to flee his home. "He could also leave through the front door and he would have saved himself to be afraid." Noriega added that Delvalle "didn't escape. He was not under arrest. So therefore, he didn't have to escape anyway." When asked if Delvalle was safe the general said, "According to Panama laws, everybody here is safe, not only . . . Delvalle but also the foreigners, also the North Americans and the population." CBS News said the interview was conducted today at Noriega's beach house.

Internally, the developments appear not to have diminished the authority of Noriega. Accordingly, most of the opposition's hopes for getting rid of the 50-year-old general are being directed abroad -- to the battle for international recognition between diplomats representing Delvalle or Solis Palma and to sanctions being contemplated by the United States.

While the ouster of Delvalle appears to have isolated the Noriega regime more than ever, it also has demonstrated the weakness of the opposition, observers here said. As a figurehead president for Noriega during less than three years in office, Delvalle drew little following.

As a result, there are no "Delvalle forces" to rally behind him, and the public response to his dismissal so far has been muted.

The anti-Noriega opposition, for its part, has shown little willingness to confront the Noriega forces with street demonstrations or other activities that might raise the political temperature here.

Today, for example, about 100 opposition supporters who attended a mass in a downtown church spilled into the street afterward to chant anti-Noriega slogans and wave white handkerchiefs, an opposition symbol.

{In a statement issued in Miami, former president Arnulfo Arias, who has charged that 1984 presidential elections he lost had been rigged by Noriega, backed the opposition's call for a strike, saying, "Our country has fallen into the hands of a narco-military power. The first duty of all Panamanians, in total unity of action, is to save Panama from this criminal power."}

Don Podesta of The Washington Post Foreign Service reported from Washington:

In the interview at his home, Lewis detailed some of the maneuvering that preceded Delvalle's decision to seek Noriega's ouster. According to Lewis' account, Delvalle decided to act under pressure from his family and friends, particularly his wife.

Delvalle sent an emissary to Florida for a secret meeting in mid-January with Lewis and three other Panamanian opposition leaders to seek assurances that if he ousted Noriega he would have the support of the Panamanian opposition.

The opposition leaders -- including Christian Democratic Party President Ricardo Arias Calderon; Roberto Eisenmann, publisher of the daily La Prensa, and Carlos Rodriguez, representing former president Arias -- suggested that Delvalle announce Noriega's ouster at an Organization of American States meeting here and offered to supply a plane to transport him. The opposition leaders, Lewis said, emphasized that Delvalle should avoid being arrested by Noriega.

Delvalle preferred to dismiss Noriega in Panama and has avoided leaving the country because of a constitutional provision forbidding the president to be out of the country for longer than 10 days without legislative permission. Presumably this would apply if he were to seek asylum at a foreign embassy.

Late Saturday night, Lewis spoke at an eight-hour meeting of the permanent council of OAS, where much of the debate centered on which of two rival Panamanian ambassadors to seat. In the end, Noriega's envoy, Roberto Leyton, was seated at the expense of Lawrence Chewning Fabrege, named to the post Thursday by Delvalle, but only for purposes of debating who would win permanent accreditation.

Lewis, seated as a special representative of El Salvador over Leyton's objections, played a tape recording of a phone conversation he had with Mariela Delvalle in which she described her husband's escape through the back door of their house while troops blocked the street in front.

The meeting broke up after 1 a.m. Sunday without deciding which Panamanian envoy would win accreditation.