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Fidel Castro makes rare public appearance
Havana, Jul 11 (Agencies):
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Published on 11 Jul. 2010 11:19 PM IST
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A Cuban website published photographs over the weekend of revolutionary leader Fidel Castro making his first public appearance since he resigned as president in mid-2006. The official Cubadebate website ran five photographs taken by Castro’s son, Alex, during a visit Wednesday to the National Scientific Research Centre.
The former president, 83, commemorated the 45th anniversary of the centre’s founding in sports attire and held animated conversations with the managers and workers, the website said.
“When the word got out that the commander-in-chief was here, the workers came together spontaneously to offer warm tribute, which Fidel returned with words of gratitude,” Cubadebate said. Castro led the revolution that overthrew the Bautista dictatorship in 1959, and ruled over the island until 2006, when he stepped down because of his failing health. He was succeeded by his brother Raul, who is currently 79 years old.
Cuba begins to free small group of political prisoners
Communist Cuba Saturday began releasing a group of ailing political prisoners as part of a landmark church-brokered deal to free 52 dissidents, relatives of three freed inmates said.
If all 52 activists are freed, it would be the largest prisoner release since President Raul Castro took Cuba’s reins permanently from his brother Fidel Castro in 2008. After a politically embarrassing hunger strike to near death by dissident Guillermo Farinas, the government and church struck a deal.
The first three dissidents freed Saturday were taken to undisclosed locations and were reportedly among a group of 17 of the dissidents who plan to go to Spain. Dissident Jose Luis Garcia Paneque phoned his family to tell them he was being transferred from the Las Tunas provincial prison to a location in Havana, according to his cousin Raul Smith.
The wives of dissidents Pablo Pacheco and Luis Milan received calls from other inmates telling them that their husbands had been released. Sources close to the process said the departure for Spain would be early next week. The Archbishop’s office said it would leave it to Cuban authorities to identify prisoners being released or who may emigrate. Under the agreement, 52 political prisoners will eventually be freed, but the initial release had been expected to include just five detainees. Thursday, the church had announced that five prisoners would be freed imminently, but none was apparently set free until the announcement of the first three releases on Saturday.
Several families of imprisoned dissidents told AFP they had been contacted by authorities and told to be prepared to travel after their relatives were released. On Saturday, the Archbishop of Havana said in a statement that another five detainees would be “leaving soon to Spain” as part of “the continuation of the process of prisoner releases.” The unusual prisoner release was announced earlier this week after unprecedented talks between Cardinal Jaime Ortega and President Castro, who leads the only one-party communist regime in the Americas. All 52 were part of a group of 75 dissidents rounded up in 2003 and sentenced to jail terms of between six and 28 years.
Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who was in Cuba this week to participate in the negotiations, said Madrid was willing to receive all the freed prisoners.
But the church said prisoners will not be forced to go to Spain, calling it a “proposal” and not “exile,” as some in opposition activists charge.
The release agreement prompted opposition activist Guillermo Farinas, a psychologist and online journalist, to abandon his dramatic 135-day hunger strike in Santa Clara protesting the treatment of political prisoners.
Some dissidents want to seek medical care in Spain before returning to Cuba; others expect to stay in Spain, according to Elizardo Sanchez, of the outlawed Cuban Committee for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
“What most worries the Ladies in White (activist family members of ailing political prisoners) is that they telephoned some prisoners, who said they would not leave the country. So what is going to happen to them?” asked Laura Pollan, leader of that group.
Moratinos said Castro pledged that the dissidents would be allowed to return to Cuba with special permits, and would not lose their property in Cuba, as is normally the case for those who emigrate.
The Cuban government is keen to avoid the political embarrassment of a dissident’s death, as it desperately seeks closer international ties to improve its grim economic situation.
Farinas launched his protest at the end of February, a day after another dissident, Orlando Zapata, died following an 85-day hunger strike.
His death sparked an international outcry and a rare reference to dissent in official Cuban media, which denied claims by Zapata’s mother that her son was denied proper medical care and was effectively “killed.”

 
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