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Last Updated: Friday, 27 August, 2004, 02:35 GMT 03:35 UK
Cuba cuts relations with Panama
Student protesters throw petrol bombs in Panama City
News of the pardons provoked riots in Panama City
Cuba has cut diplomatic ties with Panama after its president pardoned four exiles Havana accused of plotting to kill Cuban President Fidel Castro.

The move was expected after Panama's President Mireya Moscoso pardoned the four, who were being held on charges of forgery and threatening security.

They had not been charged with attempted murder for lack of evidence.

Ms Moscoso, who is due to leave office next week, said she feared the four would be extradited and executed.

Three of the men who are Cuban-born US citizens flew directly to Miami where they were met by their families while leftist students rioted in Panama City.

The Cuban government described the pardon as "an affront to the victims of terrorism and their families" and described Ms Moscoso as an "accomplice and protector of terrorism".

However, the BBC's Stephen Gibbs reports from Havana that the rupture may be short-lived as the Panamanian leader's successor, Martin Torrijos, has publicly opposed the pardons and said he would work to repair relations.

The president-elect is due to take office next Wednesday.

Summit plot

The four men - all Cuban emigres - were convicted and jailed in April for threatening public security and falsifying documents.

Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso
Moscoso announced the pardons before leaving office
Luis Posada Carriles, Gaspar Jimenez, Guillermo Novo and Pedro Remon were on a list of presidential pardons announced by Ms Moscoso.

At a summit in Panama in November 2000, Mr Castro alleged there was a plot to kill him.

Six men were arrested - five Cubans and a Panamanian.

Explosives were found in a case, but the anti-Castro activists denied plotting to kill the Cuban leader.

The defendants said they were in Panama to help a Cuban general who had supposedly planned to seek political asylum.

Wanted men

Earlier this year, Cuba said the sentences handed out to the men, of seven and eight years, were too lenient.

Cuba had tried, but failed, to extradite some of the Cuban exiles, including the alleged ringleader, Luis Posada Carriles, 76, who has been wanted by Havana for many years.

Mr Posada Carriles is a former CIA operative who has long sought the overthrow of Fidel Castro.

In 1985, he escaped from a Venezuelan prison whilst awaiting trial for his alleged involvement in a 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger plane, which killed 73 people.


SEE ALSO:
Panama pardons Castro 'plotters'
26 Aug 04  |  Americas
Cuba slams Castro 'killers' rule
21 Apr 04  |  Americas
Country profile: Panama
19 Aug 04  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Cuba
24 Apr 03  |  Country profiles


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