Cuba arrests 90 dissidents at protest march

Havana (AFP) - With tense bilateral ties recently renewed after five decades, and top US diplomat John Kerry due in Havana in days, Cuba arrested some 90 activists on Sunday.

Cuban security forces rounded up marchers -- about 50 with the Ladies in White dissident group and around 40 other activists, some wearing masks with the image of US President Barack Obama, according to an AFP reporter.

One protester slammed Obama, and said the December announcement to normalize relations between the former Cold war foes had bolstered Havana's crackdown on dissidents.

"It's his fault, what is happening," said former political prisoner Angel Moya, speaking about Obama.

"The Cuban government has grown even bolder," he added before being detained.

"That's why we have this mask on. Because it's his fault," said Moya, husband of Ladies in White leader Berta Soler.

Uniformed police and plainclothes officers were on hand at the incident in Havana's upscale Miramar district.

When marchers who were not arrested started to leave, pro-government activists chanted "down with the pack of worms."

Kerry will be in Havana Friday for the ceremonial inauguration of the newly reopened US embassy. On January 20, the countries officially reopened embassies in their respective capitals.

Soler said he hoped Kerry would meet with dissident groups and members of non-governmental organizations during the visit.

He said he also wants Kerry to pressure Havana to respect human rights in the country, where freedom of assembly and freedom of the press have been criticized.

Washington should "give the Cuban government some conditions to get it to stop violating human rights," Soler told AFP.

Kerry will be the first US secretary of state to visit Cuba since 1945, sealing what will be a major foreign policy legacy of Obama's eight-year tenure.

Cuba is the only one-party Communist-ruled nation in the Americas.