Cuban anti-government protest continues


Hundreds of pro-government protesters shouted down 40 members of the Cuban opposition group "Ladies in White" in Old Havana today on the anniversary of the 2003 "Black Spring" crackdown on dissidents.

Foreign tourists looked on as state security agents kept the two sides separated in a loud verbal showdown in the Cuban capital's historic centre and principal tourist attraction.

It was the fourth of seven days of marches by the women dissidents scheduled to protest the jailing of 75 opponents starting on March 18th, 2003.

It was the third day in a row in which the women, known in Spanish as the "Damas de Blanco" because they dress in white, have been confronted by government supporters.

Yesterday, Cuban police grabbed the dissidents by their hair, dragged and bundled them into a bus and drove them away.

The rough tactics brought fresh international condemnation for the Cuban government, already under fire for the February 23rd death of jailed dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo after an 85-day hunger strike protesting prison conditions.

A US state department spokesman in Washington said today the US was "concerned about the welfare of the Damas de Blanco and dismayed that a peaceful march was disrupted by the Cuban government."

Human rights group Amnesty International called on Cuba to "stop repressing legitimate dissent and harassing those who are only asking for justice."

The Ladies in White, whose members wore their white clothes and marched with flowers in hand, are wives and mothers of the 75 jailed dissidents, most of whom remain behind bars.

"Today marks the seventh anniversary of the unjust imprisonment of our family members," said Ladies in White leader Laura Pollan, whose husband, Hector Maseda, is serving a 20-year jail sentence.