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Last Updated: Monday, 31 January, 2005, 16:27 GMT
EU lifts Cuba diplomatic freeze
Wives of jailed Cuban dissidents at a meeting in Havana in September
The wives of many of the jailed dissidents hold regular protests
The EU has decided to temporarily lift a diplomatic freeze imposed on Cuba shortly after a crackdown which saw 75 dissidents jailed in March 2003.

The suspension, which is due to be reviewed by July, follows the recent release of several dissidents.

But the union has called for the "urgent" and "unconditional" release of all dissidents detained in Cuba.

EU foreign ministers have also pledged to boost relations with critics of Cuban President Fidel Castro.

The decision was announced by Jean Asselborn, foreign minister of Luxembourg, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

"We highlighted the need to support a process leading to democratic pluralism, respect for human rights and basic freedoms," Mr Asselborn said.

'Cocktail war'

A statement approved by EU foreign ministers said the union was willing to resume "a constructive dialogue with the Cuban authorities aiming at tangible results in the political, economic, human rights and co-operation sphere".

But it underlined it would develop "more intense relations with the peaceful political opposition and broader layers of civil society in Cuba".

The sanctions were imposed on the Caribbean island after a crackdown that led to 75 dissidents being handed long prison sentences, and the summary execution of three Cubans found guilty of hijacking a ferry.

The EU banned high-level governmental visits and participations in cultural events in Cuba and started inviting dissidents to embassy parties, leading to further retaliations by Cuban authorities.

But after releasing several dissidents over the past few months, Cuba announced earlier this month that it had restored diplomatic ties with EU diplomats on the island.

Spain' s Socialist government led by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has played a crucial role in promoting a review of EU policy towards Cuba.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Why the European Union has changed its position



SEE ALSO:
EU ponders softer stance on Cuba
19 Oct 04 |  Americas
Spain and Cuba in expulsion row
17 Oct 04 |  Americas
Cuban dissident economist freed
23 Jul 04 |  Americas
Cuba's cocktail wars
15 Jul 03 |  Americas
Cuba taunts EU over sanctions
12 Jun 03 |  Americas


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