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Last Updated: Friday, 20 May, 2005, 09:21 GMT 10:21 UK
EU politicians expelled from Cuba
Fidel Castro at Monday's rally
Fidel Castro keeps a tight rein on power in Cuba
Cuba has expelled two European Union politicians visiting Havana to address a rare pro-democracy conference.

Czech Senator Karel Schwarzenberg and German MP Arnold Vaatz were seized by police and driven to Havana airport.

The pair were due to address a meeting of dissidents opposed to the Communist rule of Cuban President Fidel Castro.

The EU, which has called for 61 jailed dissidents to be released, will decide next month whether to impose sanctions against Cuba for human rights abuses.

Mr Schwarzenberg, a chief of staff to former Czech President Vaclav Havel, was abruptly taken to the airport after Cuban police arrived at his hotel.

"This is the typical behaviour of a totalitarian state," he said.

"I did nothing against the law, they just didn't like the people I was visiting."

'Astonishing'

Mr Schwarzenberg and Mr Vaatz were among dozens of European politicians invited to appear at the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba, a conference organised by dissident opponents of Mr Castro.

Two Polish politicians were refused entry to the country on Tuesday, and put back on immediate return flights home.

Dissidents Felix Bonne (l), Marta Beatriz Roque (c) and Rene Gomez Manzano make plans for their conference
The assembly will take place in the home of a dissident leader
The EU is reportedly keen to see whether Cuban authorities actually allow the assembly, the first of its kind, to take place.

The umbrella gathering of dissident groups, organised by economist Martha Beatriz Roque, is expected to attract up to 500 participants.

Some key Cuban dissidents have decided not to attend.

The most notable absentee is Oswaldo Paya, of the Christian Liberation Movement.

He has criticised the meeting as a fraud set up with the connivance of the Cuban security forces.

Strained relations

Mr Schwarzenberg, who was travelling on a tourist visa, insisted that the assembly was not his only reason for visiting Cuba, but stressed his interest stemmed from years of work promoting democracy in eastern Europe.

"It is very astonishing to be pushed out of a country without doing anything against the law," he told the Reuters news agency.

Several other EU politicians have been arrested or barred from entering Cuba in recent years, accused of fostering links with dissidents.

EU-Cuban relations have been strained since 75 were people were arrested during a crackdown on political opponents in March 2003.

The EU imposed sanctions but lifted them when 14 were released last year. Sixty-one still remain in jail.




SEE ALSO:
Cubans end EU diplomatic freeze
10 Jan 05 |  Americas
Havana halts EU 'cocktail wars'
04 Jan 05 |  Americas
Cuba releases leading dissident
30 Nov 04 |  Americas
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


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