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Just weeks after an announced thaw in relations between the U.S. and Cuba, the State Department early Wednesday decried the communist-ruled island nation for detaining several activists in advance of a free speech demonstration.

"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," State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said.

Cuban authorities allegedly rounded up well-known dissidents to thwart a planned free speech event in which a microphone was to be set up in Havana's Revolutionary Square so participants could take turns expressing views about the future of the Cuba. The organizer of the event, Tania Bruguera, was among those reportedly detained.

The detentions and subsequent U.S. response are widely seen as the first major test of President Obama's announced plans to normalize relations with Cuba by restoring diplomatic and economic ties for the first time since the early days of the Cold War.



—Richie Duchon