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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 May, 2005, 21:54 GMT 22:54 UK
Cuba dissidents debate democracy
Dissidents at the meeting
The dissidents have been debating pro-democracy projects
Cuban dissidents have spent the last day of their defiant public meeting in Havana debating democracy bills.

Chanting "freedom" and "democracy now", about 100 dissidents voted for a steering committee to lead the group.

"We are satisfied that each and every one of us has fulfilled our duty to our nation," said Martha Beatriz Roque, the lead organiser of the event.

Cuban authorities did not intervene but had earlier expelled several European politicians who planned to attend.

On the first day, the meeting was attended by about 200 dissidents as well as Western envoys.

The dissidents heard a video message of support from US President George W Bush.

Freedom of speech

The dissident meeting, organised by the Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society in Cuba, is hoping to promote democracy in the Communist state.

Ms Roque said the rally - held in a garden outside one of the organisers' homes - was the first open opposition meeting in 46 years of Communist rule.

We will keep the pressure on until the Cuban people enjoy the same freedom in Havana that they have in America

President George W Bush

The delegates have called for the release of all political prisoners in Cuba.

On Saturday, they discussed projects dealing with subjects such as freedom of expression.

On the first day on Friday, President Bush praised the activists for coming out of the "shadow of repression" in the video message played to the meeting from a laptop computer owned by US diplomat in Cuba James Cason.

"We will not rest. We will keep the pressure on until the Cuban people enjoy the same freedom in Havana that they have in America," Mr Bush said.

Castro's 'Clinton ties'

Not all dissidents have backed the meeting, however.

Oswaldo Paya, of the Christian Liberation Movement, accused Ms Roque of working with the Cuban security forces.

He also said that her backing by hardline exile groups in Miami could be used as an excuse for a future crackdown by Cuban authorities.

Castro during Friday's speech
Castro held his own speech to coincide with the event

Although Mr Cason attended on Friday, Cuban authorities acted to prevent other foreigners reaching the venue.

Czech Senator Karel Schwarzenberg and German MP Arnold Vaatz had been seized by police and driven to Havana airport on Thursday.

The European Commission described the expulsions as unacceptable.

Two Polish MEPs were refused entry to Cuba earlier in the week.

And at least two journalists, from Poland and Italy, were detained by the Cuban authorities ahead of the meeting.

In Havana on Friday, thousands of Castro supporters gathered in a show of support and to hear the president's evening speech, in which he focused on relations with the US.

He said Cuba had shared extensive intelligence on terrorism with US President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s, some of it carried in messages by Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Why political opposition is not permitted in Cuba




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
Cuba's cocktail wars
15 Jul 03 |  Americas


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