Havana: A dissident human rights group on Friday accused the Cuban government of "social cleansing" ahead of a three-night visit by Pope Francis, saying police had rounded up thousands of beggars and homeless people in three cities where the pope will travel.
Cuban officials do not comment on police activity.
The Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation expressed its "deep indignation and concern" for the police operation it said was under way in Havana, Holguin and Santiago, where the pope will visit from Saturday to Tuesday.
"According to our estimates, this has resulted in the internment of thousands of beggars, panhandlers, ragamuffins, the mentally ill and other vulnerable wanderers, most of them homeless," the commission said in a statement, contending the operation was conducted with approval from Cuba`s highest authorities.
"This `social cleansing` intends to remove them from the view of pilgrims, foreign journalists and other visitors" coming to see the pope, the statement said.
The whereabouts of those picked up were unknown, the commission said.
The group publicly asked Pope Francis to intervene and seek the release of those picked up.
The commission monitors the arrest or detention of political opponents and common criminals. Its latest annual report said Cuba held 60 political prisoners plus 11 more who were on parole and unable the leave the island.
The commission also publishes a monthly report of activists who are temporarily detained for political activity, saying 768 were held in August, the largest single monthly total this year.