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Updated: March 19, 2010 15:20 IST

Govt. supporters heckle Cuban women in white

DPA
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Members of Ladies in White, a group of female dissidents, carrying flowers, take part in a march marking the anniversary of a major government crackdown on dissent, in Havana, on Thursday. Photo: AP.
Members of Ladies in White, a group of female dissidents, carrying flowers, take part in a march marking the anniversary of a major government crackdown on dissent, in Havana, on Thursday. Photo: AP.

Members of the Cuban dissident group Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) were again heckled by hundreds of government supporters on Thursday in central Havana.

More than 30 women from the group, whose members are wives and mothers of 75 dissidents who were arrested on March 18, 2003, attended mass early on Thursday at a Catholic church in Havana’s historic centre before marching through the streets.

From the moment they left the church, the women were escorted by plain—clothed agents of the Cuban security forces, who were later joined by scores of uniformed police officers.

Meanwhile, more than 300 supporters of the island’s communist government joined the demonstration from the sidelines, shouting slogans in favour of Cuban President Raul Castro, and historic Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

In the counterdemonstration, some men and women were visibly ordering around other government supporters.

Government supporters dispersed after the Ladies in White reached the home of their leader, Laura Pollan.

On Wednesday, female police officers prevented a similar demonstration by temporarily arresting the dissidents and forcing them to Ms. Pollan’s house on a bus.

According to Amnesty International, some of the women said they had been beaten by police — including the mother of a dissident, Orlando Zapata, who died after a hunger strike last month.

“The Cuban authorities must stop repressing legitimate dissent and harassing those who are only asking for justice and exercising their freedom of expression,” said Kerrie Howard, an Amnesty International official responsible for the Americas.

On Tuesday, government supporters heckled the Ladies in White.

The group has scheduled various protest actions for this week to mark the seventh anniversary of the arrests of their loved ones — 75 dissidents who were sentenced to up to 28 years in prison after being stamped “mercenaries” in the service of the United States.

Among the 2003 detainees, 53 remain in prison and at least one has died after a hunger strike.

Cuba has been the target of strong international criticism in recent weeks over the situation of political prisoners, including Zapata. Former prisoner Guillermo Farinas, is currently on a hunger strike and being force—fed to keep him alive.

Human—rights organizations say there are about 200 political prisoners in Cuba. Cuban authorities deny holding political prisoners and accuse Mr. Zapata and others of being common criminals.

Cuban state television on Wednesday accused the Ladies in White of resorting to “provocations” against Cuba and its government.

“The Cuban people respond with determination to each and every provocation from small counter—revolutionary groups,” the newscaster said.

Cuban television further denounced an “international media campaign” against Cuba.

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