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Crackdown in Cuba after dissident`s death

Last Updated: Thursday, February 25, 2010 - 12:27

Havana: Police arrested dissidents across Cuba to prevent protests, following the death by self starvation of Orlando Zapata that has drawn international condemnation.
Zapata, an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience in jail since 2003, died on Tuesday after an 85-day hunger strike protesting prison conditions. He was 42.

Cuban President Raul Castro said in a statement that he "regrets" Zapata`s death, but said there was no repression in the only single party Communist regime in the Americas.

"There are no tortured people, there were no tortured people, there was no execution," Castro, 78, told reporters. "That is what happens at (the US naval base in) Guantanamo."

Zapata`s mother had a different version.

"My son was tortured the whole time he was in prison," Reina Luisa Tamayo charged in a video posted on the blog Generacion Y. The site is run by award-winning independent journalist Yoani Sanchez, in defiance of Havana`s tightly controlled state media.

Tamayo implored "the international community to demand the release of the rest of (Cuba`s political) prisoners... so that what happened to my boy does not happen again."

Fearing protests, police detained some 30 dissidents on Tuesday and Wednesday according to Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the outlawed Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

"Some also have been held in their houses, without a judicial warrant, to prevent people from going to the wake," Sanchez said.

A crowd of around 100 activists met at the home of Laura Pollan -- head of group of mothers and wives of political prisoners known as the Women in White -- for what they said was a "symbolic funeral" for Zapata.

Zapata was set to be buried early Thursday in his hometown of Banes, 830 kilometres (500 miles) east of Havana.

Dissidents were also rounded up in the eastern provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo, Las Tunas and Camaguey, and in the central city of Placetas, Sanchez said.

Zapata`s death drew international condemnation.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Washington was "deeply distressed" by Zapata`s death.

Bureau Report

First Published: Thursday, February 25, 2010 - 12:27
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