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Spain makes unusual criticism of Cuba

Source: Reuters - Thu 25th Feb 2010

Spain's Socialist government on Thursday voiced criticism of Cuba after the death of a hunger-striking dissident, a departure from usual Spanish policy of calling for closer relations with the communist island.

Speaking in parliament, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero called on Cuba to free political prisoners and respect human rights.

Political prisoner Orlando Zapata, 42, died at a Havana hospital Tuesday after refusing food for 85 days to demand better prison conditions. Zapata was jailed in 2003 for crimes including resisting the communist government.

Spain has made improving ties with Cuba one of the objectives of its six-month European Union presidency and has argued Europe should not demand progress on human rights and improving democracy as conditions for normal diplomatic ties.

Spanish companies have been among the most prominent foreign investors in Cuba.

Zapatero was criticised in Spanish media for failing to refer to Zapata's death in a speech at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva Wednesday.

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