US 'deeply concerned' by arrests in Cuba

Cuban dissidents pose wearing masks depicting US President Barack Obama and holding pictures of imprisoned dissidents as they protest against the reopening of the US embassy in the island, on August 9, 2015 (AFP Photo/Francisco Jara)

Washington (AFP) - The United States is "deeply concerned" about recent arrests of dissidents in Cuba, but this will not affect a landmark visit to Havana by US Secretary of State John Kerry, the State Department said Monday.

About 90 activists, some wearing masks with the image of US President Barack Obama, were briefly detained Sunday during a march in Havana led by the Ladies in White, a dissident group founded by wives of political prisoners.

All were released after about four and a half hours in custody, the dissident group said.

"We are deeply concerned by this round-up of peaceful activists by Cuban authorities," State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

"The United States will continue to advocate the right for peaceful assembly, association and freedom of expression," Kirby said, adding that Kerry would nevertheless travel to Havana on Friday.

Some activists have reacted angrily at the US decision to normalize relations with Cuba, which was announced in December by Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro.

The two countries have reopened embassies in their respective capitals after more than 50-year break in relations.

Kerry is due in Havana for a ceremony to raise the US flag at its reopened embassy, a first since January 1961.

The head of the mission, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, meanwhile told news portal OnCuba Monday that US diplomats now can travel freely around the island. Previously, they were limited to the Havana area.