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Calm restored in Panama following violent protests

October 27, 2012

PANAMA CITY – Business slowly returned to normal Saturday following a violent week in Panama that left at least three people dead during protests against the government’s approval of public land sales in the country’s free zone.

“Tranquility and normality have returned to the streets following last week’s protest,” police spokeswoman Mara Rivera told AFP.

Police clashed with rioters on several occasions beginning Oct. 19, both in the capital and the city of Colón, where the free zone is located. The riots were sparked by a law allowing the sale of public land there. Three people were killed in the clashes, and dozens were injured.

President Ricardo Martinelli returned early from a tour of Asia, announcing via Twitter that the government would pass a bill “rescinding all parts of the law, without exception.”

Panama’s Chamber of Commerce reported that the demonstrations caused $40 million in losses and blocked some $500 million in goods from being traded in the free zone.

On Saturday, the Panamanian Congress unanimously approved by a vote of 57-0 a bill to rescind the law in a second of three debates. A third debate is scheduled for Sunday, and final passage will require Martinelli’s signature.

Protest organizers agreed to hold talks with the government to transfer funding from free zone profits and other parts of Colón to social programs.

Although Panama’s free zone contributed $1.7 billion of a total $23.2 billion of gross domestic product in 2011, it is located in one of the poorest regions of the country.

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