(CNSNews.com) - An anti-Castro group Thursday appealed to the Mexican government to grant asylum to a group of Cuban nationals who smashed their way onto the grounds of the Mexican embassy in Havana late Wednesday. They crashed through a gate in a stolen bus, press reports said.
The Cuban Liberty Council, in a message to Mexican President Vincente Fox, said, "The right of these Cuban citizens to seek political asylum must be respected, their safety and physical integrity protected and assured, and under no circumstances should they be handed over to Cuban authorities in whose hands they will face brutal reprisals."
The CLC noted that the institution of political asylum is recognized under international law. Therefore, "We trust that Mexico will respect the rights of these individuals who have clearly manifested their well-grounded fear of political persecution at the hands of the Fidel Castro regime."
The Wednesday night incident drew a crowd, and rioting ensued before truckloads of police wielding batons were called in to disperse the crowd. In the process, they detained many people.
Reports from Havana said the asylum seekers made their move because of rumors circulating in Havana that Mexico had offered to take in Cubans who wanted to leave the communist island.
The comment that started those rumors came from Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda. During a recent visit to the United States, Castaneda said, "The doors of the embassy of Mexico on the island are open to all Cuban citizens."
Once inside the embassy compound, the Cuban asylum seekers vowed to press their demands indefinitely. Shouts of "Down with Fidel!" echoed from the embassy grounds, according to press reports.
Wire services report the Castro government, early Thursday, accused the U.S. government's Radio Marti of provoking the embassy occupation the night before by repeatedly broadcasting statements made in Miami by Cataneda. The government communique also said Radio Marti's reports were a "gross provocation" leading listeners to believe that Mexico would grant refuge to any Cuban who showed up.
Radio Marti, part of the U.S. Information Agency, broadcasts anti-Castro news and commentary to Cuba.
The BBC reported that shortly after midnight, Fidel Castro and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque visited the Mexican embassy.
Castro spoke to a group of supporters - bused in for the occasion - before going inside the Mexican embassy.
"Tomorrow, we must get up early, there's work to be done," Castro was quoted as saying.
Mexico remains one of Cuba's main trading partners, even though diplomatic relations between the two countries have cooled in recent years.
Earlier this month, Mexican President Vincente Fox made a quick trip to Cuba, where he met with Castro. Officials on both sides said the purpose of Fox's visit was to strengthen economic ties between the two countries.
This was Fox's first trip to Cuba since he was elected president and the first visit to Cuba by a Mexican chief executive in eight years.
See Earlier Story:
Mexican President Calls on Castro (4 Feb. 2002)
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