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    The US State Department criticized the Cuban government on Tuesday in a statement over its decision to arrest dissident activists planning to hold a political rally in Havana.

    MOSCOW, December 31 (Sputnik) — The US State Department issued a strongly worded statement on Tuesday which was critical of the Cuban government's arrest of dissident activists ahead of a planned political rally in the country's main square.

    The statement on the Department's website, released Tuesday, notes: "We strongly condemn the Cuban government's continued harassment and repeated use of arbitrary detention, at times with violence, to silence critics, disrupt peaceful assembly and freedom [of] expression, and intimidate citizens."

    The statement adds that "the United States will continue to press the Cuban government to uphold its international obligations and to respect the rights of Cubans to peacefully assemble and express their ideas and opinions."

    Roughly 12 Cuban opposition activists are said to have been arrested by police on Tuesday morning, with several more effectively placed under house arrest, according to Elizardo Sanchez, the head of a rights group that monitors such detentions in Cuba. Other opposition activists have released social media posts noting that they had been detained.

    Shamans holding posters of U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuba's President Raul Castro, perform a ritual of predictions for the new year at Agua Dulce beach in Lima December 29, 2014
    © REUTERS / Enrique Castro-Mendivil
    The recent spate of detentions was aimed at preventing an open mic protest event which had been planned to take place in Havana's Revolution Square on Tuesday afternoon. The event, entitled #YoTambienExijo, meaning "#IAlsoDemand", was aimed at giving activists one minute to express their views on the island nation's future.

    The event was organized by Tania Bruguera, an artist who had been living in New York for the past three years before returning to Cuba on December 26 to begin planning the rally. Bruguera was detained ahead of the protest action along with Yaoni Sanchez, a well-known dissident blogger, and Reinaldo Escobar, who runs a dissident website known as 14ymedio.com, the International Business Times explained. The Guardian has noted that some of the activists had earlier noted that the US had eased pressure on the island nation prematurely, without securing human rights concessions.

    Without its leaders, the #IAlsoDemand event, which gathered about 15 people flanked by reporters with television cameras, was deemed a flop. A parallel event held in downtown Miami in front of the Freedom Tower gathered a group of about 50 Miami Cubans, France 24 said.

    The Cuban government called the event a "political provocation". The country's National Mixed Media Arts Council refused to support the rally, saying that it would negatively affect public opinion at a time of improving relations between Cuba and the United States. Meanwhile, the Cuban Union of Artists and Writers stated that Bruguera was a "CIA agent" and an 'opportunist' seeking attention, NBC News explained.

    US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson tweeted on Tuesday that "freedom of expression remains [the] core of US policy on #Cuba; we support activists exercising those rights and condemn today's detention." Jacobson is set to lead the US delegation to Cuba next month, and is charged with formalizing the process of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries announced earlier this month.

    Earlier, Cuban President Raul Castro told the country's parliament that the United States must respect Cuba's decision to maintain its socialist choice. "In the same way that we have never demanded that the United States change its political system, we will demand respect for ours," Castro said at the close of the Cuban parliament's 2014 session.

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    detention, arrest, protests, Raul Castro, Cuba, Havana
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