Havana – Cuban police arrested several people here after they shouted slogans calling for the release of political prisoners during a procession on the feast of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, patroness of the island, witnesses said.
Police arrested the purported dissidents carrying posters that said "Freedom" and others showing an image of the Virgin, and forced them into a patrol car, witnesses said.
The procession of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, whose feast day was celebrated Thursday, filed through the streets near the parish church of the popular Centro Habana neighborhood accompanied by thousands of people.
Also taking part in the ceremony were members of the dissident Ladies in White movement - women campaigning for the release of political prisoners - and blogger and government critic Yoani Sanchez.
Berta Soler, a spokesperson for the women's group, told Efe that they were simply joining in the procession and had no problems because they avoided them, explaining that "we were harassed, but we regarded this as a religious occasion and we didn't answer back."
But Soler did complain that the leader of the group, Laura Pollan, was intercepted Thursday by police when she and some 20 other women were leaving Mass at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity in the eastern town of El Cobre, and was shoved onto a bus.
The religious act was presided this time by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, archbishop of Havana, as is usual, and the event's closing Mass was officiated by the parish priest of the Havana church, Roberto Betancourt.
As the procession of the faithful proceeded through the streets, local residents crowding the sidewalks, balconies and rooftops in the Centro Habana neighborhood cheered as the image of the Virgin passed by.
Many of the faithful were dressed in yellow or carried some accessory of that color, which is identified with the island's patroness, and many carried candles and flowers that they left as offerings at the church during the ceremony, which is included as one of the celebrations of the 400th year since the statue of Our Lady of Charity was found.
The feast day coincided with the itinerary of an image of Our Lady of Charity being carried around the entire island that began Aug. 8 of last year in Santiago de Cuba at the far eastern end of the island, and that up to now has covered some 25,000 kilometers (15,500 miles), according to the organizers.
On Dec. 30, the image is planned to end its tour upon arriving in Havana, a remembrance of the long procession of 1952 celebrating the 50th anniversary of the island's independence.