Cuba temporarily detains scores of dissidents ahead of pope’s visit

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Scores of members of the Ladies in White and other dissidents groups have been detained in Cuba after a protest, dissident sources said Monday, less than a week before Pope Francis’ arrival on the island.

Elizardo Sanchez, the leader of the umbrella organization for dissident groups – Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) – told dpa that scores of the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) were detained after a protest Sunday, along with dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer and Angel Moya.

Soler, the leader of the Ladies in White, said more than 50 people were temporarily detained after the usual Sunday rally to demand the release of political prisoners.

Most of those arrested were released without charges within a few hours. Soler, who said the practice has been going on for weeks, said she was released in the late afternoon.

Soler also said that dissidents plan to attend the papal mass Sunday at Havana’s Revolution Square, although they expect the authorities to prevent them from getting there.

“It would be good for the Holy Father to be aware of this,” Soler said.

She said the Ladies in White have requested from the Catholic Church a meeting with Francis. The pope is set to arrive in Cuba on Saturday and visit Havana, Holguin and Santiago before travelling to the United States on September 22.

Cuban authorities Friday announced an amnesty for 3,522 prisoners to mark Francis’ visit to the socialist island. None of them is regarded as political prisoners by dissident organizations. Cuban authorities insist they hold no political prisoners, but only those who have violated the country’s laws.

Francis played a major role as a mediator in talks for the historic improvement in ties between Cuba and the United States from December. Both countries restored diplomatic ties on July 20, after more than half a century.

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