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Cuba Releases Nearly 3,000 Prisoners

Cuba's President Raul Castro addresses the audience during the National Assembly in Havana, December 23, 2011.
Cuba's President Raul Castro addresses the audience during the National Assembly in Havana, December 23, 2011.

A human rights group in Cuba says Havana has included five political prisoners among more than 2,500 prisoners who were released in a humanitarian gesture ahead of a visit by the pope.

The Cuban Committee for Human Rights and National Reconciliation said Tuesday that at least 50 political prisoners remain behind bars. It called the gesture "limited," drawing from a prison population estimated to number between 70,000 and 80,000 people.

Cuban President Raul Castro announced the release Friday in a speech to lawmakers. He said 86 foreigners from 25 countries were among the 2,900 inmates slated for release.  

The announcement came two weeks after Pope Benedict said he planned to visit Cuba next year before the Easter holiday.

The United States said Saturday it is "deeply disappointed" that American contractor Alan Gross was not among the prisoners released.

Gross is serving a 15-year term in Cuba after he was convicted earlier this year of crimes against the communist state.  He was arrested two years ago this month for bringing communications equipment into the country.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.

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