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Cuba frees 53 political prisoners in deal with US

Recently released dissidents Aide Gallardo (L) and Sonia Garro hold the Cuban national flag during a march in Havana January 11, 2015. Credit: Reuters

Cuba has completed the release of all 53 political prisoners it had promised the US it would free, Reuters have reported.

In a major step towards normalising relations with the United States, he release of the remaining detainees overcomes a big hurdle for historic talks aimed a reconciling the two nations.

There had been questions whether Havana would release all those it had pledged to free as part of the deal that Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced on 17 December to restore diplomatic ties, which Washington severed more than 50 years ago.

The White House welcomed Cuba's action as a milestone, but senior US officials said Washington would keep pressing Havana to free more people they consider political prisoners.

Castro sets up potential Obama meeting at summit

Cuban President Raul Castro has confirmed he will participate in the Washington-backed Summit of the Americas in Panama in April, potentially setting up his first meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama since the two countries agreed on Wednesday to re-establish diplomatic ties.

Freed Cuban agents given heroes' welcomes as they land

Thee Cuban intelligence agents have been given heroes' welcomes as they landed back in their homeland after 16 years in prison in the US.

The men were given heroes' welcomes as they landed back in Cuba after 16 years Credit: Reuters

The men were released as part of a prisoner swap between the two countries, which heralded the start of a major policy shift to normalise relations after more than 50 years of hostility.

Gerardo Hernandez, aged 49, Antonio Guerrero, 56, and 51-year-old Ramon Labañino were greeted by Cuban President Raul Castro and throngs of family, friends and fans as they disembarked at Jose Marti International Airport.

Gerardo Hernandez greets his wife Adriana Perez O'Connor at the airport Credit: Reuters

The men - together with two others already released - are jointly referred to as the 'Cuban Five', and are celebrated as anti-terrorist heroes for their work spying on extremist Cuban exile groups in Florida.


Republicans claim Cuba move shows 'retreat of US values'

Senators Lindsay Graham and John McCain. Credit: Reuters

Two of the leading Republican voices on U.S. foreign policy have denounced President Barack Obama's plans to ease U.S. restrictions on Cuba.

Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham claimed the move showed "America and the values it stands for in retreat and decline."

"It is about the appeasement of autocratic dictators, thugs, and adversaries, diminishing America's influence in the world," the pair said in a statement.

Freed aid worker Alan Gross 'very happy' at Obama move

Alan Gross speaking after his release today. Credit: Reuters

Freed aid worker Alan Gross said on Wednesday he was "very happy" to hear about the thaw in relations between the US and Cuba.

Speaking to the media after his release from Cuba, he thanked U.S. President Barack Obama for all he had done to secure his release and said he did not blame the Cuban people for his ordeal.

"Two wrongs never make a right. I truly hope that we can all get beyond these mutually belligerent policies and I was very happy to hear what the president had to say today," Gross said.

An astonishing shift in US-Cuban relations

President Obama has announced a historic change in relations between the US and Cuba, ending 50 years of virtual separation between the two states.

But the move was met with hostility from some of his Republican opponents, who accused Mr Obama of rewarding a regime that suppresses its own population.

ITV News Washington Correspondent Robert Moore reports.

Pope Francis congratulates US and Cuba on agreement

Pope Francis welcomed the move towards normalising US-Cuban relations. Credit: Reuters

Pope Francis has congratulated the United States and Cuba on their decision to establish diplomatic relations, and the Vatican said it was ready to support the strengthening of bilateral relations.

In a statement, the Vatican also confirmed that its diplomats facilitated talks between the two countries, "resulting in solutions acceptable to both parties."

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