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Last Updated: Friday, 25 June, 2004, 02:53 GMT 03:53 UK
Two more Cuban dissidents freed
Manuel Vázquez Portal with his wife at home in Havana after his release
Manuel Vázquez Portal rejoined his wife at home in Havana
The Cuban authorities have released two more dissidents from a group of more than 70 jailed in April last year.

One of them, the poet and journalist Manuel Vazquez Portal, described his release as a complete surprise.

He had been sentenced to 18 years in prison but left after just over a year, suffering respiratory problems.

The other man, Roberto de Miranda, an academic, has heart disease. Six dissidents - all of whom have health problems - have now been released.

Diplomats in Havana believe the motivation behind these releases may not be only humanitarian, the BBC's Stephen Gibbs reports.

They say Cuba is keen to avoid the international criticism that would follow should any of the dissidents die in jail.

Earlier this month, four dissidents held in prison without trial for more than two years were unexpectedly released.

They included Leonardo Bruzon Avila, 49, a human rights group leader whose cause has been championed across the world.

He was freed with an opposition journalist and two members of a smaller dissident group. They were all arrested more than two years ago on sedition charges.

President Fidel Castro's communist government launched a recent crackdown on dissidents said to be "counter-revolutionaries" working for the United States.

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