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NORIEGA OPPONENT SEEKS `SANCTUARY’
TAKES REFUGE IN THE VATICAN EMBASSY AFTER TROOPS RAID HEADQUARTERS

SHARE NORIEGA OPPONENT SEEKS `SANCTUARY’
TAKES REFUGE IN THE VATICAN EMBASSY AFTER TROOPS RAID HEADQUARTERS

Opposition leader Guillermo Endara took refuge in the Vatican Embassy in Panama City Friday after soldiers and plainclothes agents broke into the opposition political headquarters, a lawyer for the opposition said.

"He's in there and he's safe," the lawyer for one of three opposition political parties said upon entering the grounds of the Vatican Embassy Friday.About 9 p.m. Thursday, a truck with about 25 soldiers and plainclothes agents arrived at the opposition headquarters. They pounded on the door and when those inside refused to open it, the men tore back a metal grate from a window and smashed the glass.

Endara, who has been on an anti-government hunger strike since Sept. 20, and 14 other people were forced outside through the window with their hands over their heads.

A U.S. Embassy official said Endara was free and unharmed.

The opposition lawyer said, "They (government officials) said they didn't want to arrest him (Endara) but they didn't want him to continue his hunger strike in public."

The whereabouts of the other 14 forced from the building were unknown.

In Washington, two congressional committees were investigating the Bush administration's handling of the failed coup, including whether rebel troops sought U.S. support while the uprising was in progress.

"We're going to get to the bottom of this," said Sen. David Boren, D-Okla., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "I am convinced the full facts have not been laid out to us or the American people."

Boren, who was one of the first on Capitol Hill to criticize Bush's inaction in Tuesday's coup attempt, said he already was having difficulty because the White House was resisting authorizing the CIA to give his panel a detailed chronology of events.

The Intelligence Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee were meeting in closed session Friday with Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell.

Among the mysteries surrounding the coup, Boren said in an interview, is exactly what was said in a conversation Tuesday afternoon between two mid-level rebel officers and an American officer, Army Gen. Marc Cisneros, at a U.S. military base in Panama.

The raid on oppositions offices was the third incident Thursday apparently aimed at intimidating opponents of military leader and de facto ruler Gen. Manuel Noriega. About noon, plainclothesmen arrived at the offices of the Civil Democratic Opposition Alliance, arresting an opposition cameraman and an Endara bodyguard. Some four hours later, paramilitary troops fired shotguns outside the offices.

During the late night raid, the men, apparently armed only with rubber hoses, chased some of the people taken from the building and beat them.

The U.S. embassy official said at least two American journalists, identified only as cameramen, were roughed up and robbed of cash and equipment, and at least three other journalists were briefly detained.

The men also chased and detained passers-by, smashed vehicle windows and broke into at least one car. They searched nearby apartment buildings after observing some residents recording the incident with home video equipment. Within two hours, the scene had been cleaned up.

The incidents came as Noriega moved to consolidate his power after rebel troops seized the PFD's military headquarters compound Tuesday and briefly captured Noriega, before being repulsed by troops loyal to the strongman. The Panamanian military said 10 rebels were killed in the insurrection and 18 soldiers, three rebels and five civilians were wounded.

Noriega late Thursday denounced alleged American involvement, telling ABC News the current U.S. envoy is "totally stupid" and urging the United States to staff its embassy with "people who know and understand the sensibilities of our people."