Panama lawmaker wanted by U.S. won't seek reelection

PANAMA CITY Fri Mar 7, 2008 3:41pm EST

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PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - A top Panamanian lawmaker wanted in the United States for the murder of a U.S. soldier will not seek re-election later this year, Panamanian media reported on Friday.

Pedro Miguel Gonzalez's election last year to the head of the National Assembly irked the U.S. government, which has an arrest warrant out for Gonzalez on suspicion that he gunned down Army Sgt. Zac Hernandez in Panama in 1992.

Gonzalez was acquitted by a Panamanian court but Washington said it was deeply disappointed by his election and said it would hurt relations between the two countries, who had been trying to tie up a trade deal.

"With all the problems that have occurred I am not considering re-election," Gonzalez was quoted as saying in the daily La Prensa, adding however that he would not step down before his term expires on August 31.

U.S. law allows the prosecution of individuals accused of killing Americans overseas.

Hernandez, aged 22, was shot dead outside Panama City hours before the arrival in the capital of former President George H.W. Bush, the first presidential visit since the December 1989 U.S. invasion to topple General Manuel Noriega.

Gonzalez's election in September 2007 has turned into a major obstacle in relations between Panama and the United States, helping delay up a free-trade agreement between the two countries.

Panamanian business leaders have called for the deal, which has been approved by Panama but not ratified by the U.S. Congress, to enter in to force as soon as possible and have criticized the Panamanian government's handling of the matter.

Earlier this week, in a speech to business leaders, Domingo Latorraca, head of the Panamanian Chamber of Commerce, urged the government to try harder to resolve the impasse and revive the deal, which is hoped would boost investment in Panama.

No one from Gonzalez's office was available for comment.

(Reporting by Andrew Beatty; editing by Catherine Bremer and Philip Barbara)

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