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Cuban dissident calls off hunger strike after 134 days

Guillermo farinas yoani sanchez twitpicGuillermo Farinas, the Cuban dissident who has drawn international attention for his prolonged hunger strike, has called off the fast, supporters said Thursday. The dissident's decision comes after the Cuban government agreed to release 52 political prisoners over the next several months, about a third of those currently jailed.

Prominent Cuban opposition blogger Yoani Sanchez was among the first to report the end to Farinas' protest, via a tweet, from the hospital in the city of Santa Clara where Farinas has been receiving nutrients intravenously since March. Sanchez also posted a photo, seen at left, of Farinas taking "his first glass of water."

The 48-year-old psychologist and journalist recently courted death, doctors said, after a potentially lethal blood cot developed in his neck.

The dramatic about-face for both Farinas and the communist government of the island nation comes after Cuban President Raul Castro met Wednesday with the archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, and Spain's foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos.

Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, told The Times on Thursday that the prisoners being released are dissidents rounded up during the 2003 "Black Spring" crackdown. The mothers and wives of many of those jailed that year have staged public protests in recent months, calling themselves Damas en Blanco, or Ladies in White.

One jailed figure in the 2003 group, Orlando Zapata, died in late February while on a hunger strike.

Sanchez said the announcement of the release demonstrates that the government responds to outside pressures. "The government needs to clean up its image," he said. "With a lot of the international insistence on this issue, this is a step in its interest."

In Washington, Human Rights Watch released a statement calling for Cuba to release all political prisoners. "So long as Cuba's draconian laws and sham trials remain in place, they will continue to restock the prison cells with new generations of innocent Cubans who dare to exercise their basic rights," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, the group's Americas director.

On Twitter, Yoani Sanchez also uploaded a hand-written "note to the press" apparently signed by Farinas, in which he salutes "the memory of Orlando Zapata, because this hunger strike was started by him."

-- Daniel Hernandez and Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City

Photo: An image uploaded by blogger Yoani Sanchez of Guillermo Farinas, taking his first glass of water since ending his hunger strike. Credit: Yoani Sanchez, via Twitpic

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