Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who spied for the United States before his drug trafficking and brutality triggered a US invasion to oust him in 1989, has died aged 83.
President Juan Carlos Varela announced Noriega's death late on Monday, saying it marked the closing of a chapter in the Central American country's history.
Noriega, who ruled Panama from 1983 to 1989, was a longtime collaborator of the Central Intelligence Agency and a useful US ally in a region that was prone to leftist insurgencies.
The invasion ordered by President George HW Bush brought an end to his career of money-laundering and cocaine smuggling, in which he worked with traffickers like Colombian Pablo Escobar. He was initially sentenced in the United States in 1992, but was serving a sentence for murder in Panama when he died.
Noriega was let out of prison under house arrest in January to have an operation to remove a brain tumor. The surgery went ahead in early March, but he suffered a hemorrhage, underwent a second operation, and had been in a coma ever since.
A Panamanian government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Noriega died at around 11 pm local time in a Panama City hospital after his condition suddenly worsened.
President Varela said Noriega's family should have the right to bury the former leader in peace. Ezra Angel, Noriega's lawyer, said the former strongman's three daughters would not issue any public statements.
Most Panamanians had gone to bed by the time the announcement was made close to midnight in the isthmus nation, so local reaction was initially muted.
"We Panamanians must remember the (Noriega) era as something that cannot be repeated in Panama, it was a really painful time for the country because it ended with an invasion," said Aurelio Barria, a former leader of the Cruzada Civilista, a civil society campaign against the dictatorship.