Pithart meets Cuban President, fails to secure prisoners release
The Chairman of the Czech upper house of Parliament, Petr Pithart has failed to win the release of two Czechs being held in Havana on subversion charges
The Chairman of the Czech upper house of Parliament, Petr Pithart has failed to win the release of two Czechs being held in Havana on subversion charges. After a six hour private meeting with the Cuban President Fidel Castro Mr Pithart told reporters that he was returning home without the detainees, but that the exchange had been a "useful" contribution to ongoing efforts to resolve the sensitive case. The Czech Senate Chairman said he was convinced that both sides would continue "to do everything possible to find a solution in a reasonable time". He declined to answer reporters questions, asking those present not to ask questions "he could not or did not want to answer for fear of hindering the fragile negotiation process". Former Czech finance minister Ivan Pilip and ex-student leader Jan Bubenik have now spent over three weeks in the Villa Marista jailhouse, having been arrested shortly after meeting with Cuban dissidents. The initial charges of "subversive activities" on the grounds of which they were imprisoned have recently been changed to "activities aimed at undermining Cuba's economy".
The Cuban leader has said he expects the Czech Republic to apologize for the activities of its two nationals
Here in Prague Czech officials have exercised extreme caution in their response to the latest developments. President Havel's spokesman said the Czech head of state was not going to issue a statement while negotiations were still in progress. Representatives of all Parliamentary parties have agreed on the need to intensify diplomatic activity to try and secure the prisoners' release . The Chairman of Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee Lubomir Zaoralek has not ruled out sending a Parliament delegation to Cuba to engage in another round of diplomatic talks.
The Czech government's chief EU negotiator Pavel Telicka has warned that unless the Czech Republic curbs its growing deficit in public finances it could seriously damage its chances of early admission to the European Union.
Meanwhile, in his first public comments on the case over the weekend, the Cuban leader said he expected the Czech Republic to apologize for the activities of its two nationals. Addressing a globalization conference in Havana, the Cuban President said "There must be an apology. We are telling the truth and we have the necessary proof" . According to the AP news agency, Fidel Castro described the Czech embassy in Havana as "a lair of spies who had been engaging in intelligence-gathering on the island since the overthrow of communism in Europe." Czech top officials have repeatedly rejected demands for an apology, saying the country had nothing to apologize for since the two Czechs had not visited Cuba in any official capacity.
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