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Castro ups ante in Posada case, swipes at Spain

HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters) -- President Fidel Castro, in an escalating political campaign over the case of an anti-Castro Cuban exile captured in Panama, led a protest on Saturday at which he blasted the leaders of El Salvador, Mexico and Spain.

In military attire and waving a Cuban flag, Castro led thousands of demonstrators in a rally demanding justice against Luis Posada Carriles, arrested in Panama two weeks' ago for allegedly plotting to assassinate the Cuban leader.

The 72-year-old Posada is Havana's Public Enemy No. 1, accused of decades of violence against the communist-run Caribbean island including a 1976 aircraft attack that killed 73 people, and a 1997 bombing campaign against hotels.

Castro's announcement of the assassination plot, which led Panamanian police to arrest Posada and three alleged accomplices -- and Cuba's refusal to condemn "terrorism" in Spain by Basque separatist group ETA -- dominated the Ibero- American Summit in Panama City earlier this month.

In a speech winding up Saturday's rally, Castro reiterated Havana's call to prevent "the terrorist ring-leader (Posada) and his followers from escaping justice with the support of their friends from the North."

That was a reference to Cuba's northern neighbor and long- time political foe, the United States. Havana alleges that Posada has been backed over the years by the CIA and anti- communist Cuban-American exiles in Florida.

Havana wants Posada and his associates extradited to Cuba, where they would be tried for terrorism, a crime which carries the death penalty. Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso has indicated they will likely be charged in her nation for bringing in explosives in a bid to assassinate Castro.

Castro also had harsh words for El Salvador's President Francisco Flores, whom he says ignored detailed warnings from Cuban security services about Posada's activities in the Central American nation, where he has lived in recent years.

"The terrorist ring-leader was living, conspiring and operating from El Salvador, which the Salvadoran government knew, tolerated and hid," Castro said. "That's what I accuse him (Flores) of, and he cannot prove me wrong."


Castro said a detailed dossier on Posada was handed over to Flores, who heads the right-wing ARENA party, on Oct. 5, 1999. "He did absolutely nothing. Maybe he couldn't, due to lack of authority and courage."

But the 74-year-old Cuban leader's ire went further.

He blamed Spain for "cooking up in advance," with El Salvador and Mexico, the "hypocritical" terrorism motion on ETA at the summit, which Havana said should have been a wider condemnation, including U.S. aggression against Cuba.

"Spain is the emerging European economic power in Latin America which is sometimes useful against the voracity of the North, but its political leadership behaves with obvious inclination towards arrogance," said Castro, in a thinly veiled reference to Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar.

There was also a harsh reference to Mexico, traditionally Castro's strongest ally in Latin America, which has recently given Havana less than unconditional support.

The terrorism motion in Panama was seconded by "the president of a different Mexico, now ruled by the interests, principles and commitments imposed by the Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the North," Castro said.

The other leaders from Latin America, Spain and Portugal in the Ibero-American group backed the proposal "as a result of neoliberal affinity or the deceptiveness of the theme," added Castro, underlining Cuba's isolation at the regional forum.

Castro promised Cubans "will not rest" in their battle to see Posada brought to justice.

His views were echoed by speaker after speaker at the rally -- a weekly political setpiece which takes place in a different location every Saturday.

"You bloody vultures, in this historic place, we accuse you of sowing so much mourning and pain in the world, for causing us so much human, material and economic damage," local teacher Liliana Suarez said, railing at anti-Castro Cuban-Americans.

Saturday's rally took place in the eastern town of Guisa, where Castro's rebel forces won a battle during the guerrilla war that led to the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Another rally was set for Monday in Havana opposite the U.S. diplomatic mission.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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