Washington (AFP) - The United States on Monday blasted Cuba's recent mass arrest of dissidents as an "intimidation tactic" to silence critics, and called for the end to such detentions.
Cuban authorities broke up a Sunday march by the Ladies in White, arresting about 100 of the opposition activists as they marked the 20th anniversary of the sinking of a tugboat in which 37 people drowned while seeking to flee the communist-ruled island.
"We strongly condemn the Cuban government's continued use of this intimidation tactic to silence its critics and disrupt peaceful assembly," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
"We urge the government of Cuba to end these practices and respect the universal human rights of the Cuban people."
Relatives who lost loved ones in the tragedy blame the regime for what happened, while Havana maintains it was an accident.
Psaki described the tugboat as having been "sunk by the Cuban government 20 years ago."
The Ladies in White, formed in 2003 by wives and relatives of political prisoners, marches in the Cuban capital every Sunday after mass at Santa Rita parish church.
Since theirs is the only group with government permission for regular protests, arrests are few and infrequent.
But on Sunday, dozens of police surrounded the large crowd of marchers two blocks from the church after they headed toward the sea instead of along their usual route.