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PANAMA DECRIES U.S. `ARROGANCE’

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Panama is accusing the United States of "arrogance" in two recent confrontations that left an American Marine officer dead and a Panamanian policeman wounded.

The latest incident occurred Monday, when a U.S. Army lieutenant shot and wounded a Panamanian police officer. At the time, U.S. forces were on high alert following a Saturday shooting, with President Bush refusing to rule out military action against the government of Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega.The general's Defense Forces on Monday called the shooting of the policeman an "ever more reckless aggression" by the United States and accused U.S. officials of twisting the facts of the case.

The American involved was leaving a laundry in western Panama City when the policeman motioned to him to stop and approached him, according to the U.S. Southern Command. It said the policeman appeared to reach for a gun.

"The American responded defensively by pulling a weapon and fired two shots," the U.S. statement said. "The Panamanian went down, then got up and left the scene."

Panama, however, said the American was traveling in a vehicle that "never stopped and on the contrary, accelerated."

One of the two shots hit policeman Cesar Tejada in the left forearm, a Defense Forces communique said.

The civilian laundry, under contract to clean U.S. military uniforms, is near Southern Command headquarters and less than a mile from Panamanian Defense Forces headquarters.

White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said the Noriega government's recent declaration of a "state of war" with the United States "may have been a license for harassment and threats and in this case murder."

Tensions already were high over Saturday's fatal shooting of Marine 1st Lt. Robert Paz, 25, of Dallas, and the reported beating of a Navy couple who U.S. officials say witnessed the shooting.

The government-owned newspaper Critica on Tuesday called the two incidents "epileptic arrogance" by the United States and lashed out at the "cynicism to blame the Defense Forces for the criminal actions of Saturday when four U.S. soldiers fired on civilians and defenseless women."

U.S. forces stayed on maximum alert but took no public action other than to patrol their bases in battle gear. Traffic and business in Panama City was normal Tuesday.

Since Noriega was indicted on cocaine trafficking charges in Florida in February 1988 the United States has tried through economic, diplomatic and political pressure to drive him from power.

The Panamanian leader claims the U.S. drug charges, which he denies, are part of a plot by Washington to renege on the 1977 Panama Canal treaties, which cede control of the waterway at the end of the century.

Panama says Paz _ and three others with him Saturday _ ran a checkpoint and wounded a Panamanian soldier and two civilians. The Southern Command said they were fleeing a crowd of Panamanian soldiers and people in civilian clothes when the Panamanians opened fire.

Photographs viewed by The Associated Press of the 1981 Chevrolet with Michigan plates in which the Americans were riding showed bullet holes, including two on the driver's side and one through the trunk.

U.S. officers said the shots came from Soviet-made AK-47 rifles.