Police broke up a weekly march by wives and mothers of imprisoned Cuban opposition leaders, forcing them onto a bus and driving them home as a pro-government crowd screamed insults.
Uniformed police and plainclothes security agents blocked a pavement along Havana’s Fifth Avenue, stopping five members of the Damas de Blanco, or Ladies in White, from following their traditional march route, said Bertha Soler, one of the group’s leaders.
“There was a mob of government people shouting things,” Ms Soler said when reached by phone later at the home of Laura Pollan, who co-founded the group. Ms Soler’s husband, Angel Moya, is in jail for dissident activities.
The Ladies in White traditionally attend Sunday Mass at Santa Rica Church in the upscale Miramar neighbourhood, then march silently down the swank boulevard to demand the release of their relatives – top political activists, community organisers and independent journalists.
They were rounded up during a government crackdown on dissent in 2003 and sentenced to lengthy prison terms for allegedly conspiring with Washington to topple Cuba’s communist system.
The women dress all in white, carry pink gladiolas and, after a few blocks, stop to chant: “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!”
They have marched every Sunday for years and are usually allowed to do so without incident.
Ms Pollan said a state security official visited her home Sunday morning to warn the group not to demonstrate, saying they did not have government permission.
“It’s every woman’s right to decide if she will march or not,” Ms Pollan said.