The first group of dissidents freed by the Cuban government is set to arrive in Madrid on a scheduled flight on Tuesday, Spanish officials say.

It was still not clear how many would be on the first flight, an official at the Spanish foreign ministry said.

Last week, the Cuban government, the Catholic Church and the visiting Spanish foreign minister agreed a deal to secure the release of 52 dissidents.

Cuba's ex-leader Fidel Castro will be on TV on Monday, official media say.

The official Communist Party newspaper, Granma, said Fidel Castro would appear on television and radio in the evening to discuss his concerns about the Middle East.

Mr Castro has not been seen in public since July 2006 when he had emergency surgery.

Photographs emerged at the weekend showing the 83-year-old former president smiling and greeting workers.

The images were published as the Cuban government began steps to release the first dissidents.

The authorities have gathered several political prisoners and their families at separate locations in Havana.

A Spanish foreign ministry official in Madrid said the first freed prisoners were expected to take a scheduled flight from Cuba on Monday evening.

Over the coming days, 17 freed dissidents are expected in Spain.

On Sunday, a dissident group known as the Ladies in White staged its weekly march calling for the release of their relatives.

Protests continue

There were slightly fewer protesters than usual as some had been taken to a government facility before going to the airport to join their husbands on a flight to Spain.

The prisoner release, which could become the biggest this decade on the communist-ruled island, was announced last Wednesday.

Under the agreement, 52 political prisoners will eventually be freed.

All were part of a group of 75 dissidents rounded up in 2003 and sentenced to jail terms of between six and 28 years.

Leader of the Ladies in White Laura Pollan said their marches would continue.

"While there is one political prisoner or prisoner of conscience, there will be Ladies in White," said Ms Pollan.

"This is what we pledged from the beginning and the Ladies will keep that promise."

Cuba has always denied that it has political prisoners, calling them mercenaries paid by the US to undermine Havana's rule.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners
| Share