Cuba Says It Will Sign Rights Agreement, Arrests Protesters

HAVANA -- Cuba said Monday that it would sign an international agreement on civil and political rights while a few blocks away government supporters shoved and shouted down activists calling for improved human rights on the communist island.

Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque marked International Human Rights Day by saying his country would "soon" sign the accords. Meanwhile, dissidents marching nearby were mobbed, insulted and forced into unmarked sedans.

There were no reports of injuries, and it was not clear whether marchers taken away had been arrested. A few international journalists were roughed up by counterprotesters but did not require medical attention.

Several march organizers were picked up before the event, evidently in an attempt to prevent it, according to a caller who identified himself as Carlos Bosch, communications secretary of the Independent Democrat Front.

The scene at a park in the Vedado neighborhood was similar to International Human Rights Day protests in past years. Only 14 protesters turned up, and they were shouted down and pushed by a pro-government group of more than 100 people, guided by men with walkie-talkies.

What was different this year was Perez Roque's announcement that Cuba would sign the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the first quarter of next year. The two covenants develop the ideas in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which Cuba is a signatory.

Susan McDade, resident coordinator for the United Nations in Cuba, welcomed as "extremely positive" the announcement Monday that Cuba would sign the international rights agreements.