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September 26, 2017

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Cuba arrests 22 Ladies in White: group chief

HAVANA -- Cuban authorities have arrested at least 22 members of Cuba's dissident Ladies in White as they planned to mark one year since the death of their former leader, the group's new chief said Sunday.

Berta Soler said the women have been detained since Saturday to keep them from celebrating the one-year anniversary of Laura Pollan's death. But she vowed to keep up the pressure against the Communist regime.

"We will march despite repression by the Cuban government," said the group's new head, Berta Soler. "The Ladies in White are in mourning but also strong."

Soler said she had reports of at least 12 arrests in Havana, six in Villa Clara and four in Matanzas.

The Ladies in White, founded in 2003 by wives and kin of political prisoners seeking their release after a crackdown, have been at the center of efforts to promote change in Cuba after more than five decades of one-party Communist rule on the island.

During a march in western Havana, activists from the group shouted "Laura Pollan lives!" and "freedom, freedom, freedom" as they carried pink gladiolas. Some also donned shirts bearing Pollan's picture.

Further tributes to Pollan included prayer sessions, according to Soler.

Pollan died Oct. 14, 2011 in a Havana hospital, a week after being admitted with breathing difficulties that eventually led to respiratory failure. She had been battling diabetes and hypertension.

Traffic access to Pollan's home, converted into the group's headquarters, has been blocked since late Friday.

Pollan "challenged the regime at all levels," Pollan's husband Hector Maseda told AFP.

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