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Cuba protests: Thousands rally against government

Thousands of Cubans have joined the biggest protests for decades against the island's Communist government.

They marched in cities including the capital Havana, shouting, "Down with the dictatorship!".

In response, police used pepper spray and beat some of the demonstrators.

Cubans have been angered by the collapse of the economy, as well as by restrictions on civil liberties and the authorities' handling of the pandemic, with record infections in recent days.

The protesters were demanding a faster coronavirus vaccination programme

Last year, Cuba's state-controlled economy shrank by 11%, its worst decline in almost three decades, hit hard by the pandemic and US sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.

Thousands of pro-government supporters also took to the streets after the president went on television to urge them to defend the revolution - referring to the 1959 uprising which ushered in decades of Communist rule.

President Miguel Díaz-Canel said the protests were a provocation by mercenaries hired by the US to destabilise the country, and promised a "revolutionary response".

The top US diplomat for Latin America, Julie Chung, tweeted: "We are deeply concerned by 'calls to combat' in Cuba."

"We stand by the Cuban people's right for peaceful assembly. We call for calm and condemn any violence."


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