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Published: Wednesday December 11, 2013 MYT 6:30:02 AM
Updated: Wednesday December 11, 2013 MYT 6:30:02 AM

In Cuba, scattered protests, detentions mark human rights day

Members of the Ladies in White dissident group shout anti-communism slogans during a protest on International Human Rights Day, in Havana December 10, 2013. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa

Members of the Ladies in White dissident group shout anti-communism slogans during a protest on International Human Rights Day, in Havana December 10, 2013. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban dissidents and government employees mounted rival gatherings across the Communist-run Caribbean island on Tuesday, marking the 65th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations.

While a handshake between U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuba's Raul Castro during ceremonies in South Africa honouring Nelson Mandela provided a moment of cordiality between the long-time foes, 15 Cuban dissidents held a seminar on human rights in the upscale Havana district of Miramar.

Outside, a hundred school children chalked peace symbols on the sidewalk, danced and sang in a government-organized event.

Around 20 members of the dissident group Ladies in White were pounced upon and quickly shoved into waiting vehicles by security personnel and government supporters when they arrived at a busy intersection in the capital.

The women, in groups of two or three, came in taxis over a 20 minute period, in an apparent attempt to avoid police, but to no avail. The incident was similar to many others in the past and invariably the women are driven home or detained for just a few hours.

The organisation charged many other members were stopped by state security agents from attending what was billed as a rally and march for human rights.

International rights groups say Cuban laws virtually prevent all forms of protest and dissent.

Under former president Fidel Castro dissidents often faced long prison terms for their activities, while under his brother, who took over in 2008, the government has changed tactics, temporarily detaining opponents for a few hours, days or weeks and then releasing them, only to repeat the process if they protest again.

The Communist Party's newspaper Granma celebrated the day on its front page, while statement handed out by government to the press at a seminar began: "Today, December 10 ... signifies a fiesta for the advances achieved in this area (human rights) and the new goals still to be reached."

The Cuban Foreign Ministry got involved organizing a seminar on the advances of women, people of colour and gays, as well as freedom of religion.

The Ladies in White group was formed by the wives and mothers of 75 dissidents jailed in a 2003 crackdown on Castro's opponents. They have since been released by President Raul Castro's government, but the organisation has continued to protest what it views as human rights violations by the government.

International rights groups say Cuban laws virtually prevent all forms of protest and dissent while the government says it upholds human rights by providing free education and health services.

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