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Political prisoners' wives harassed in Havana

26 April 10 03:11 GMT

Wives and mothers of political prisoners' in Cuba have again been prevented from marching in Havana.

Six women - known as the Ladies in White - were surrounded by an angry mob of pro-government supporters and then pushed off the street into a park.

The women stood silently for several hours as the crowd shouted insults and pro-revolutionary slogans.

The women, who are demanding freedom for their husbands and sons, were similarly treated last week.

On Sunday Cubans voted in municipal elections, described by the authorities as proof of democracy on the communist island.

Officials said some 93% of the voters had cast their ballots shortly before the voting ended.

The Communist party is the only legal political organisation in Cuba.

Stand-off in park

The confrontation in Havana started at afternoon, when the Ladies in White tried to hold their weekly gathering after Sunday's mass.

On leaving the church they were surrounded by an angry mob and shoved off the street and into a park.

They were surrounded for about seven hours, with pro-government supporters shouting insults.

The women responded by staying on their feet, silently staring their opponents in the face.

They have been staging weekly marches in Havana for several years, but government loyalists began breaking up the protests earlier this month with the help of security officials.

Cuban officials say the women do not have a permit to march in the capital.

Until recently very few people in Cuba were aware of the Ladies in White, and there is still very little sympathy for their cause, the BBC's Michael Voss in Havana reports.

But this sort of intimidation and violence is doing serious damage to Cuba's reputation abroad, our correspondent adds.

The marches have been closely monitored by western diplomats, and the women have received verbal support from the United States and European Union.

Cuban President Raul Castro has accused the West of launching a campaign to discredit Cuba by provoking such incidents, our correspondent adds.

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