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'Ladies in White' marchers detained in Havana, group member says

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
updated 10:41 PM EDT, Sun March 18, 2012
Members of the
Members of the "Ladies in White" march every Sunday to protest against the Cuban government.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Ladies in White are relatives of Cuban dissidents
  • They silently march on Sundays to protest against the Cuban government
  • A group member said several were detained by authorities on Sunday

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- Dozens of members of the group "Ladies in White" were detained Sunday in Havana and several -- including the group's leader -- were unaccounted for and believed to be under arrest, a group member said.

The organization, "Damas de Blanco" in Spanish, is composed of the family members of Cuban dissidents, many of whom have been jailed. Every Sunday, the women march silently from a Havana church to their homes to protest against the Cuban government.

The island's government says the women are paid by the United States to create disturbances on the island.

"We were doing our march as we usually do when women dressed in civilian clothes stopped us," said group member Katia Sonia.

Sonia said she recognized the women as state security agents. She said the women made the 22 marchers get into vans and cars. They were then taken to a police station and questioned, Sonia said.

All 22 women were later released, she said. But 52 other women, including group leader Bertha Soler, who did not arrive at the church for Mass, were unaccounted for, Sonia said. She said other members had heard the women were detained as they made their way to the Mass.

The Ladies in White have asked to meet with Pope Benedict XVI when he makes his first visit to Cuba in a week. So far Cuba's Catholic Church has not responded to their request.

Sunday was the ninth anniversary of what is known in Cuba as "the Black Spring," when 75 dissidents were arrested by the government.

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