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Cuba to free more than 200 in wake of John Paul's visit Pope wanted still more but welcomes gesture

In what Vatican officials described as a welcome response to Pope John Paul II's appeal last month for the release of all "prisoners of conscience" in Cuba, the Cuban government announced Thursday that it intended to free "more than 200 inmates" held on political and other charges.

At a news conference in Havana on Thursday afternoon, Alejandro Gonzalez, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, told reporters that Cuba would pardon "several dozen" prisoners whose names were on a list that the Vatican's secretary of state, Angelo Cardinal Sodano, gave to Cuban authorities during the pope's visit to Cuba last month. Gonzalez added that Cuba also intended to release scores of other prisoners "on humanitarian grounds."There was no immediate indication of when the prisoners would be released, or the identity of any of them. Nor is it yet clear what percentage of those being pardoned are political detainees, as opposed to ordinary prisoners who are sick or elderly, or if any prominent political prisoners are among them.

An exact accounting of how many political prisoners are to be freed may be difficult.