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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 December 2006, 22:24 GMT
Cuba frees well-known dissident
Hector Palacios
Mr Palacios said he remained "morally strong"
A well-known Cuban dissident imprisoned in a government crackdown on the political opposition in 2003 has been unexpectedly released.

Hector Palacios, 65, was sentenced to 25 years in jail as part of a group of 75 dissidents charged with conspiracy.

Mr Palacios, a sociologist and outspoken critic of Fidel Castro's communist government, said he had been released because of heart problems.

He said he felt physically "destroyed" but "morally strong".

"I was in jail for almost four years that felt like 10. It was extremely unjust," he said from his Havana home.

Mr Palacios said that as many as 20 dissidents were dying in Cuban prisons and a further 300 were surviving in what he called very difficult conditions.

Many of the imprisoned dissidents were involved in a petition called the Varela Project, which called for a referendum on democratic reforms in Cuba.

Mr Palacios was one of a group rounded up in March 2003 and charged with conspiring against the country with the US.

Both the US and the activists denied the charges.

President Fidel Castro - who has ceded power to his brother Raul following gastric surgery in July - usually portrays Cuba's dissident movement as both insignificant and in the pay of the US.

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