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© Reuters. People collect throughout protests towards and in assist of the federal government, amidst the coronavirus illness (COVID-19) outbreak, outdoors the Capitol constructing, in Havana, Cuba July 11, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer

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By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) -Thousands of Cubans took to the streets from Havana to Santiago on Sunday in hardly ever seen protests, expressing frustration over financial situations, the tempo of COVID-19 vaccinations and what they mentioned was authorities neglect.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who additionally heads the Communist Party, blamed the United States for the unrest in a nationally televised speech on Sunday afternoon.

Special forces jeeps, with machine weapons mounted on the again, had been seen within the capital, Havana, and Diaz-Canel known as on supporters to confront “provocations.”

Thousands of people gathered in downtown Havana and along parts of the seaside drive amid a heavy police presence. There were a few arrests and scuffles.

A Reuters reporter witnessed police pepper spray a few protesters and hit others with batons, but there was no attempt to directly confront the thousands chanting “Freedom” as they gathered and marched in the city center. Their shouts of “Diaz- Canel step down” drowned out teams of presidency supporters chanting “Fidel.”

The protests broke out in San Antonio de los Banos municipality in Artemisa Province, bordering Havana, with video on social media showing hundreds of residents chanting anti-government slogans and demanding everything from coronavirus vaccines to an end of daily blackouts.

“I just walked through town looking to buy some food and there were lots of people there, some with signs, protesting,” local resident Claris Ramirez said by phone.

“They are protesting blackouts, that there is no medicine,” she added.

Diaz-Canel, who had just returned from San Antonio de los Banos, said many protesters were sincere but manipulated by U.S.-orchestrated social media campaigns and “mercenaries” on the ground, and warned that further “provocations” would not be tolerated.

There were protests later on Sunday hundreds of miles (km) to the east in Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba, where social media video showed hundreds marching through the streets, again confirmed by a local resident.

“They are protesting the crisis, that there is no food or medicine, that you have to buy everything at the foreign currency stores, and on and on the list goes,” Claudia Perez said.

ECONOMIC CRISIS

“We are calling on all of the revolutionaries within the nation, all of the Communists, to hit the streets wherever there may be an effort to supply these provocations,” Diaz-Canel mentioned in his broadcast remarks.

The Communist-run nation has been experiencing a worsening financial disaster for 2 years, which the federal government blames primarily on U.S. sanctions and the pandemic, whereas its detractors cite incompetence and a Soviet-style one-party system.

A mix of sanctions, native inefficiencies and the pandemic has shut down tourism and slowed different overseas income flows in a rustic depending on them to import the majority of its meals, gas and inputs for agriculture and manufacturing.

The economic system contracted 10.9% final 12 months, and a pair of% by June of 2021.

There has been a surge in COVID-19 circumstances and deaths this 12 months, with a file 6,900 circumstances and 47 deaths reported on Saturday.

Cuba has two vaccines and has begun a mass vaccination marketing campaign, with 1.7 million of its 11.2 million residents vaccinated so far and twice that many at numerous states of the three-shot course of.



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