Cuba to free 52 dissidents soon: church officials

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The Cuban government has agreed to release 52 political prisoners, five to be freed later Wednesday and the remaining 47 within the next few months, Catholic Church officials said in a statement.

The statement did not identify the political prisoners to be freed, nor did it mention whether high-profile dissident Guillermo Farinas, who is said to be near death from a months-long hungerstrike, is among them.

The news of the dissidents' imminent release came after Spain's top diplomat met with Cuban leaders in a bid to free the political prisoners and save Farinas's life.

Spanish Foreign Minister Moratinos met here with President Raul Castro, dissident leaders and top church officials to achieve the breakthrough.

The agreement will allow the release later today of five jailed dissidents "who will be allowed shortly to depart for Spain, accompanied by their relatives," said the statement released by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the archbishop of Havana.

Farinas has been refusing food since February while demanding the release of 25 political prisoners with failing health.

The dissidents were among 75 people arrested in 2003, many of whom now are in ill health.

Farinas's deteriorating condition has been reported, unusually, in the official communist party newspaper Granma in what observers say is an attempt to defuse international criticism should he die.

The Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission (CCDHRN) -- an outlawed but tolerated dissident group -- estimates there are 167 political prisoners in the Caribbean nation of more than 11 million people.

© 2010 AFP

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