Cuban opposition activists arrested in Havana

 HAVANA. March 19. KAZINFORM Cuban police have arrested dozens of opposition activists, a week ahead of a visit by Pope Benedict XVI, according to BBC.

Most of those detained are members of the protest group Ladies in White, who are demanding the release of political prisoners.

Many were stopped as they staged their silent weekly protest march along an avenue in the capital, Havana.

The group says the country's Communist authorities have increased pressure on them in recent days.

The government says they are paid by the US to undermine Cuba's revolution.

The Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) usually attend Mass together and then stage a protest march outside calling for the release of all political prisoners.

Leader seized

A group spokeswoman said that 19 of its members had been detained on Saturday evening while trying to stage a march in central Havana. Three have since been released without charge.

On Sunday morning, police detained another 36 members of the group - including leader Bertha Soler - as they made their way to attend Mass together in Havana.

After the church service, 22 women and two men were arrested as they marched to the city centre, trying to go beyond a route that has recently been tolerated by the authorities.

Witnesses said they were bundled into an unmarked bus by plain-clothed police officers. That group was also released without charge after several hours.

The BBC's Sarah Rainsford in Havana says that ahead of the Pope's visit protesters have become more vocal and the government seems to have reacted accordingly.

Elizardo Sanchez, of the banned but tolerated Cuban Human Rights Commission, condemned the arrests.

"This weekend has been another one full of political repression by the totalitarian government," he said. "The worst part of it is that the victims of the repression have been, basically, women."

He said it was still not clear where many of those arrested were being held.

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