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67-year-old Cuban dissident urged to end hunger strike

Monday, September 17, 2012    

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HAVANA, Cuba (AFP) — Cuba's "Ladies in White" opposition movement urged a prominent 67-year-old dissident yesterday to end her six-day-old hunger strike, saying she is more valuable alive as a fighter than dead as a martyr.

The dissident, Marta Beatriz Roque, is in critical condition, according to a spokeswoman.

Ladies in White leader Berta Soler said she spoke Saturday to Roque and tried to persuade her that ending the strike was not tantamount to caving in.

"It is reasoning and preserving life," Soler said after her group's regular protest march through Havana yesterday.

Roque, who is diabetic, is on hunger strike with 26 other activists. Soler said that while her movement disapproves of this protest method, it expresses moral and spiritual support for dissidents who choose to do it.

"We need men and woman to stay alive, because the legacy (of a martyr) is not the same as having people on earth and capable of giving the government a headache," said Soler.

Roque had a difficult night and suffered from hand cramps and heavy sweating, said her spokeswoman, Idania Yanes.

"She is in critical condition," Yanes said.

Known as the Iron Lady of Cuba's dissident movement, Roque launched her hunger strike Monday to protest what she said was the government's "intolerable and untenable" treatment of political opponents.

The Cuban government considered opposition leaders "mercenaries" in the pay of the United States. No state media has reported on Roque's physical condition.

In 2003 Roque was the only woman among 75 activists arrested and given long prison sentences in a high-profile crackdown.

Roque, however, was released the following year for health reasons, and she went on to found an umbrella group that represents several of the island's opposition groups.

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