Page last updated at 08:37 GMT, Wednesday, 23 April 2008 09:37 UK

US deplores Cuba protest break-up

By Michael Voss
BBC News, Havana

Police arrest members of the opposition movement Ladies in White in Havana, 21 April 2008
The women wore T-shirts emblazoned with pictures of their husbands

Cuba and the US have exchanged words following the brief detention of women who were protesting to call for their jailed dissident husbands to be freed.

The Cuban government has accused the women of working for the US.

Washington responded by saying the women had the right to free assembly, as guaranteed by human rights accords which Cuba has signed.

The women's husbands are among 75 people imprisoned during a 2003 crackdown on dissidents.

Fifty-five are believed to still to be behind bars.

On Monday morning, some 10 women from a group known as the Ladies in White, were staging a peaceful protest to call for their husbands' release.

The women were detained by the police, forcefully put on a bus and driven home.

On Tuesday, the Cuban press launched a series of attacks on the wives, accusing them of working with the US to subvert the Cuban revolution.

State-run television showed photos of the women meeting the head of the US Interest section in Havana.

Washington responded by issuing a statement deploring the police action.

It said the women were exercising their right to free assembly as guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Cuba recently signed up to.

The statement also urged the Cuban government to unconditionally release those imprisoned in the crackdown.


The authorities in Havana deny there are any political prisoners in Cuba, accusing them of being mercenaries in the pay of the US.

Raul Castro has lifted a series of restrictions on daily life since officially taking over the presidency from his brother Fidel Castro two months ago.

These include the right to own mobile phones computers and dvd players and for Cubans to stay in the same hotels as foreigners.

The Bush administration has dismissed them as cosmetic steps, although they are proving popular with many Cubans.

There are no signs, though, of any moves towards political changes to this one party state.

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