Ladies in White leader freed after detention

Dissidents taken into custody early Sunday

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HAVANA - The leader of the Cuban dissident group the Ladies in White has been freed after being detained before a weekly protest march. 

Bertha Soler and three dozen supporters of the Ladies in White were taken into custody early Sunday. 

About 30 more were detained briefly at the march in Havana when they tried to walk down streets where they don't normally demonstrate. They protest after every Sunday Mass to demand the government free prisoners jailed for politically motivated crimes. 

Bertha Soler was seen Monday morning at the house of the late Ladies in White co-founder Laura Pollan. 

Cuba considers them common criminals and mercenaries paid by Washington to stir up trouble. 

The U.S. State Department criticized the detentions ahead of Pope Benedict XVI's visit March 26-28. It released the following statement from National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor:

"The detention of members of the Damas de Blanco this weekend in Havana in the lead up to Pope Benedict's visit underscores the disdain of Cuban authorities for the universal rights of the Cuban people.  The quiet dignity of the Damas stands in stark contrast with the acts of those who are standing in the way of the basic aspirations of the Cuban people.  We call for the immediate release of all who were detained and for Cuban authorities to abandon their tactics of intimidation and harassment to stifle peaceful dissent. 

"President (Barack) Obama and the American people remain steadfast in standing with the Damas and other courageous voices in Cuban civil society who demonstrate the Cuban people's desire to freely determine their country's future."

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