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Cuba's Roman Catholic Church Announces Release of 12 More Prisoners

Cuba's Roman Catholic Church says 12 more political prisoners will be released in a deal it made with the government, bringing to 17 the number expected to soon leave Cuba for Spain.

The Catholic Church said Wednesday it had reached an agreement with the government on the release of the first five of 52 prisoners. The 52 are among 75 people arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms during a government crackdown in March of 2003.

The deal was announced after visiting Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos met with the archbishop of Havana, Jaime Ortega, Cuban President Raul Castro and other officials. Moratinos had been in Cuba to discuss human rights and other topics.

Word of the release agreement prompted opposition activist Guillermo Farinas to end a 135-day hunger strike protesting the government's treatment of political prisoners.

It would be the island's largest mass liberation of political prisoners in years.

On Monday, the independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights said the number of political prisoners in Cuba had dropped to 167 from 207 at the start of this year.

Cuba has said it has no political prisoners, only "mercenaries" who Havana claims are working with the United States to undermine Cuban communism.

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