Panama Honors Dead from '64
PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) — Panama's president lit an eternal flame Wednesday in memory of protesters killed decades ago in rioting that followed efforts to raise a Panamanian flag at the U.S.-occupied Panama Canal zone.
"We won't let the flame of gratitude go out," President Martin Torrijos said at the new memorial.
He called the riots "the beginning of a historic period that ended with the (U.S.) handover of the canal to Panama, territorial integration and a true independence."
On Jan. 9, 1964, a group of Panamanian teenagers went to a U.S. school near the canal to hang a Panamanian flag and were intercepted by students and U.S. authorities. Scuffling erupted and the flag was torn, touching off rioting that picked up steam over the next two days and spread to other parts of the country.
Clashes between the two sides, during which Panama police and U.S. soldiers reportedly fired on rioters, left about 20 protesters and four U.S. soldiers dead.
As a result, Panama temporarily broke diplomatic relations with the U.S. The day is celebrated in Panama as the "Day of the Martyrs."
The violence was a factor in Washington's decision in 1977 to leave Panama; the Central American nation took over control of the canal on Dec. 31, 1999.