Hunger strike in Cuba
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    Marchers defy Cuba on political prisoners

    Marchers defy Cuba on political prisoners
    Tuesday, Mar 23, 2010, Page 7

    Wives and mothers of political prisoners completed an unprecedented week
    of protest marches in Havana in defiance of the authorities to press for
    the release of dissidents held for seven years.

    "I hope that these [marches] will be the last ones, that there won't be
    an eighth anniversary," said Laura Pollan, the leader of the so-called
    , as they set out on a march on Sunday to the offices of
    the National Assembly.

    It is the only opposition group on the island that regularly takes their
    protests to the street, challenging the limits of the Americas' only
    one-party communist regime's tolerance for dissent.

    Pro-government counter-­protesters were out in force all week, including
    on Sunday, heckling the women and shouting slogans like "the streets
    belong to the revolutionaries" and "the streets are with Fidel."

    The women, who march dressed in white and carrying white gladiolas, are
    demanding the release of the 53 political prisoners who remain locked up
    seven years after the government's last major crackdown.

    Twenty-two other prisoners have been released for reasons since
    the March 2003 arrests, which the opposition calls "."

    The women were accompanied by Reyna Luisa Tamayo, the mother of
    Orlando , who died at age 42 in a hunger strike
    on Feb. 23 to protest prison conditions. She said her son was tortured
    and called his death a "premeditated murder;" Cuban authorities denied
    the claims.

    and psychologist Guillermo Farinas launched another hunger
    strike the day after Zapata's death, demanding the release of 26
    political prisoners who are in poor health. He has been hospitalized in
    the city of Santa Clara, 280km east of Havana.

    The protests have aroused strong criticism of the Cuban regime in many
    European countries, the US and among international rights organizations,
    but Havana has so far dismissed it all as a political campaign.

    "It is, really, a colossal deception operation, the longest, most costly
    and dirtiest in history. It has lasted now half a century," National
    Assembly speaker Ricardo Alarcon said.

    Departing from a Catholic church, where they first attended mass, the
    Ladies in White marched through various Havana neighborhoods each day
    last week, shouting "Liberty."

    On Wednesday, however, in the Parraga district of Havana, the march was
    interrupted by authorities, who forced the women onto two buses after
    they had been shoved and hit by government supporters.

    The incident prompted the government to reinforce the small group of
    security agents that normally accompany the marches to prevent
    incidents, establishing a large cordon in the subsequent marches.

    The government, which accuses the women of being "mercenaries," and "the
    point of the spear" of US sponsored "subversion" on the island, carried
    its version of events for several days in television news shows, which
    was unusual.

    "As a result, even though they speak badly of us, the entire Cuban
    people know that the Ladies in White are in the street asking for the
    of our loved ones," Pollan said.

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