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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 February 2008, 20:27 GMT
Four dissidents freed by Havana
Cuba's acting President Raul Castro, 16 February 2008
Raul Castro was given temporary control by brother Fidel
Cuba has released four political prisoners arrested during a crackdown on the opposition in 2003.

Reporters Jose Ramon and Alejandro Gonzalez, dissident Omar Pernet and trade unionist Pedro Alvarez were flown to Madrid by a Spanish air force jet.

The four were among 75 prominent figures convicted of being mercenaries in the pay of the US five years ago.

Cuba had been expected to release seven political prisoners on health grounds after negotiations with Spain.

The other three are expected to be flown to the US, says the BBC's Michael Voss in Havana.

Long sentences

The four released dissidents were flown to Spain with their families, arriving at a military airport near Madrid on Sunday after an overnight flight from Havana.

Their release is being seen by Western diplomatic sources in Cuba as a positive move by acting President Raul Castro, whose brother Fidel Castro underwent emergency surgery 18 months ago.

"The decision was made unilaterally by the Cuban authorities and we are very satisfied," said Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.

On Friday, he had announced Cuba would free seven of the 59 dissidents still imprisoned after the 2003 crackdown.

Those convicted were given prison sentences of up to 28 years, but 16 have already been released on health grounds.

There has been no official comment on the release by the Cuban authorities.

Freed prisoners on the conditions in prison

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