Pro-government mob sets upon protesters in Havana

HAVANA (Reuters) - More than a hundred pro-government civilians on Sunday mobbed a handful of protesters who showed up at Havana's Central Park to support a group of dissidents on a hunger strike, while security forces watched on, according to a Reuters eyewitness.

Police detained more than a dozen people for attempting to protest while security forces prevented around a dozen more from leaving their homes in the first place, according to exiled rights group Cubalex.

The Reuters eyewitness saw police arrest at least one young man after a mob chased him down as he ran across the park waving a sign, pushing and shoving him into a nearby building.

The mob surrounded, chased, pushed and punched another young man and woman, with police and other security personnel doing little if anything to stop them.

The rabble then turned on credentialed foreign journalists filming the story, pushing, shoving and punching one cameraman four or five times in the body.

The protest had been called in support of a group of activists who say they have gone on a hunger strike to protest authorities' attempts to prevent them from publicly demonstrating against the imprisonment of a fellow member on charges of contempt.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the claims and could not access their headquarters due to security forces blocking off the street. One state official said access was restricted due to a coronavirus outbreak.

A number of international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have denounced authorities' treatment of the activists who have had numerous run-ins with the state in recent years as they protest curbs on freedom of speech.

The Cuban government dismisses dissidents as mercenaries seeking to destabilize the country and did not reply to request for comment.

(Reporting by Marc Frank; editing by Richard Pullin)

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