WITH a papal visit looming, dissidents occupied a Catholic church demanding Pope Benedict XVI press for political freedom in Cuba, religious and dissident sources said.
Cuba’s Catholic church slammed the move as “illegitimate and irresponsible.”
“This is a coordinated, planned strategy by groups in different regions around the country. It is not some whim… it was arranged apparently to create critical situations ahead of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit,” said a statement from the archdiocese led by Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega.
The protesters, five women and eight men, are members of the outlawed opposition Republican Party of Cuba (PRC), group member Julio Beltran told AFP.
The group entered the Our Lady of Charity church in central Havana late Tuesday and spent the night. By late Wednesday, they were still on the scene.
Police stood guard in the area but did not intervene, and the archbishop’s office said the authorities had promised not to enter the church.
The protesters’ demands include unconditional freedom for political prisoners, an end to repression and persecution of regime opponents, access to uncensored news and freedom of travel.
Benedict is scheduled to visit Cuba from March 26-28, 14 years after Pope John Paul II’s historic visit in January 1998.
Roberto Betancourt, a priest at the church, said he received a letter from the protesters, who promise to leave once they received a response from senior church clerics.
Report from Agence France Presse/Yahoo News