WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Wednesday condemned the arrest of dozens of Cuban pro-democracy activists who were mourning the death of leading dissident Oswaldo Paya, saying it showed the "climate of repression" in communist-ruled Cuba.
Paya, 60-year-old leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, and fellow dissident Harold Cepero died in a car crash in eastern Granma province on Sunday. The cause of the crash is officially under investigation.
As activists, diplomats and friends left a funeral ceremony at a Havana church to accompany Paya's family to the cemetery on Tuesday, police herded dozens of dissidents who were chanting "freedom, freedom" onto a bus and drove them away.
"Unfortunately, these arrests provide a stark demonstration of the climate of repression in Cuba," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.
"We call on the Cuban government to respect internationally recognized fundamental freedoms, including freedom of speech," he said.
President Barack Obama has said the United States will not lift its five-decade-old embargo on Cuba until Havana implements democratic reforms, something Havana has staunchly resisted. But he has eased some restrictions, including rules on family remittances and travel.
Obama has no room for softening the U.S. stance on Cuba in an election year. Opposition to such moves runs strong among U.S. conservatives, particularly the anti-Castro community in Florida, a key election battleground state.
(Reporting By Margaret Chadbourn; editing by Mohammad Zargham)