HAVANA - Cuban police detained about 50 people when a predominantly Roman Catholic dissident group led a march in Havana on Sunday, less than a week before Pope Francis visits the communist-ruled country.
Such detentions have become common following regular Sunday marches by the Ladies in White, a group that has criticized the Roman Catholic Church and Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega for failing to advocate on its behalf with the Cuban government.
Ladies in White leader Berta Soler told Reuters the women planned to attend masses that Pope Francis will lead in Havana and Holguin while in Cuba from Sept. 19-22. The pope will also visit Santiago de Cuba.
"I would discuss with the pope the need to stop police violence against those who exercise their freedom to demonstrate in public," Soler said.
Cuba's government considers the dissidents to be provocateurs who are financed by anti-communist groups in the United States as part of an effort to destabilize the government in Havana.
In their weekly rally following mass at Havana's Santa Rita Catholic Church, about 40 of the women, accompanied by about a dozen male supporters, marched outside their authorized route and down a side street where they were set upon by some 200 government supporters and police.
Female police pushed, pulled and carried the women onto buses as some sat down in an attempt to resist. The men were handcuffed and shoved into police cars and vans.
Similar incidents have occurred over the last few months, with those detained soon released. Dissidents have said about 100 people are typically detained each Sunday across Cuba.