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Dec 24, 2011

Cuba says to release 2,900 prisoners

Coconucumo _ | Dec 24, 2011

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HAVANA, Dec. 23, 2011 (Reuters) — Cuba, which is preparing for a visit by Pope Benedict XVI next spring, will release 2,900 prisoners in the coming days for humanitarian reasons, including some convicted of crimes against "the security of the state," the Cuban government said on Friday.

In an official note, the government did not directly link the release with the Pope's visit, but said the prisoners would be freed after "numerous" requests by family members and religious institutions.

There was no indication whether American Alan Gross, serving 15 years in prison for working to set up Internet equipment in Cuba under a secretive U.S. program pushing political change on the island, would be among those freed.

Gross has been jailed for two years in a case that stalled progress in U.S.-Cuba relations.

The fact that some of those to be released were convicted for crimes against the security of the state could mean that political prisoners would be among them, although that was not clear.

The government released more than a 100 political prisoners in a deal brokered by the Catholic Church in 2010.

Pope Benedict said recently he would visit Cuba and Mexico before Easter, which falls on April 8.

(Reporting by Jeff Franks; editing by Anthony Boadle)


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