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Spain urges release of Cuban dissidents
By DANIEL WOOLLS
Associated Press
2010-02-25 07:39 PM
Spain's prime minister urged Cuba on Thursday to release its political prisoners, exerting unusual pressure on Havana as he joined a chorus of criticism over a jailed dissident's death.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero spoke in Spain's Parliament a day after he gave a speech at a U.N. human rights forum in Geneva during which he avoided any mention of Cuba or the dissident, even as other European countries and the United States condemned Orlando Zapata Tamayo's death on Tuesday after a long hunger strike. Spanish conservatives criticized Zapatero's silence.

Under Zapatero, a Socialist, Spain has pursued a friendly policy of engaging the Cuban government to nudge it toward democracy and respect for human rights. Madrid has generally refrained from criticizing Havana.

Two years ago, Spain was instrumental in persuading the European Union to suspend sanctions it had imposed against Cuba in 2003 after the jailing of 75 dissidents.

As current president of the European Union, Spain has raised the idea of having the bloc abandon its more hardline stance toward Cuba in favor of one with more dialogue and cooperation.

Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos visited Cuba late last year and met with President Raul Castro and other leaders. But he avoided conferring with dissidents, political activists, independent Cuban journalists or members of Havana-based human rights organizations, a break with the past when Spanish leaders often held such meetings and enraged the Cuban government. Dissidents complained bitterly.

On Thursday, however, Zapatero said "we can imagine the suffering of Cuban political prisoners. And we must demand that the Cuban regime restore the freedom of prisoners of conscience and respect human rights."

"This is a fundamental requirement of the entire international community," Zapatero said.

In his speech in Geneva _ at a conference on abolishing the death penalty _ Zapatero added a line to his prepared text and called on countries to respect "the life of each and every one of its citizens." Spanish officials traveling with him said this was an allusion to Cuba, according to Spanish media reports.

The conservative newspaper El Mundo said in an editorial Thursday that Zapatero's silence a day after Zapata Tamayo's death was surprising, and that the case makes Spain look bad within the EU for trying to go easy on Cuba.

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