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Tuesday, 18 December, 2001, 22:16 GMT
Sinn Fein leader meets Castro
Gerry Adams and Fidel Castro expected to meet again on Tuesday
Gerry Adams and Fidel Castro expected to meet again on Tuesday
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has met the Cuban leader Fidel Castro during a controversial three-day visit to Cuba.

The two men shook hands and held informal talks before and after an education rally in a suburb of the capital Havana on Tuesday and they are expected to meet again on Wednesday.

Speaking to the BBC's correspondent, Mr Adams defended his decision to go ahead with his Cuban trip despite criticism from some US politicians.

Republican Congressman Peter King, a long time supporter of Sinn Fein, described Fidel Castro as "a human rights violator" and said the visit was a mistake.

2,000 people attended Fidel Castro education rally
2,000 people attended Fidel Castro education rally

Chairman of the nationalist SDLP in Northern Ireland, Alex Attwood, also said the timing of Mr Adams' visit to Cuba was wrong.

The Sinn Fein president delayed the trip following controversy surrounding the arrest of three Irishmen in Colombia.

It emerged that one of the three - still being held on charges of training Marxist FARC guerrillas in explosives and urban terrorism - Niall Connolly had been a Sinn Fein representative in Cuba.

We have very many friends in the USA. They understand why I am here

Gerry Adams

However, Mr Adams said he did not believe the trip would cause lasting damage to relationships with his party's United States supporters.

"We have very many friends in the USA. They share our concern and our struggle for freedom and peace in Ireland.

"They understand why I am here. And I think our relationship and the cause of Ireland is stronger than any possible disagreement," he said.

"And I have to say that not all disagree - that many people share our view. One-hundred-and-sixty states in the UN voted recently to an end to the US blockade. So Sinn Fein is not alone on this."

Public rally

On Monday evening, Mr Adams attended a 2,000 strong education rally, at which he did not speak, but to which he was welcomed as a special guest of the Cuban Government.

Afterwards, Mr Adams and Fidel Castro walked among the crowds.

The Cuban leader spoke for two hours about his pride in the Cuban education system and his dislike of the American Government.

The same issues were discussed by the two leaders during their talks on Monday.

It is likely that Mr Castro will meet Mr Adams again before he leaves on Wednesday.

Hunger-strike monument

On Tuesday, the Sinn Fein president unveiled a monument in Havana in memory of the 10 republican prison hunger-strikers who died in Northern Ireland in 1981.

They died in the Maze jail where republicans were attempting to gain political status which exempted them from the normal prison regime.

Mr Adams, the West Belfast MP, said he wanted to acknowledge President Castro's support for the hunger strike.

Ulster Unionist Minister Michael McGimpsey criticised the visit to Cuba.

He described Mr Adams' visit as "foolish and arrogant", particularly in the wake of the terrorist attacks on 11 September.

North Belfast assembly member Gerry Kelly is accompanying the Sinn Fein leader on the trip.

Mr Adams is expected to visit a social workers training college in Cojimar, a workers area in Havana, before delivering a speech at the Cuban Institute of Friendship with Peoples.

On the final day of his visit, Mr Adams is due to meet the Cuban Minister for Foreign Affairs Felipe Perez Roque as well as visiting the Juan Manuel Paediatric Hospital.

The BBC's Mark Simpson
"President Adams joined President Castro in a walkabout"
Republican Congressman Pete King
"This visit undermines Sinn Fein's position on human rights"
Ulster Unionist Minister Michael McGimpsey
"This trip is foolish and arrogant"
See also:

17 Dec 01 | Northern Ireland
Sinn Fein leader arrives in Havana
22 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
SF link to Colombia arrest man
23 Aug 01 | Americas
US warning on IRA suspects
17 Aug 01 | Northern Ireland
Who are IRA suspects?
22 Aug 01 | Americas
'IRA' men in notorious prison
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