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Cuban dissidents lie low after Castro's death

The Ladies in White, who have rallied almost every week since its founding in 2003, have called off this week's protest. Cuba is in nine days of mourning for its longtime leader Fidel Castro, who died Friday at age 90.

The Ladies in White movement said it had cancelled Sunday's protest "out of respect" for those who mourn Castro.

The decision came as the communist island readies several commemoration events to mark the former leader's passing last Friday.

The group, which was founded 13 years ago after Castro's regime imprisoned 75 political dissidents, said it didn't want to be accused of provoking opponents during such a sensitive period.

'Policies won't change'

Group leader Berta Soler told the Agence France-Presse news agency that they didn't expect much to change in Cuban politics in the near future, as Castro's brother Raul continues to lead the country. He took over when Fidel Castro fell ill in 2006.

"It will be the same Cuba with one dictator instead of two. The dictator Fidel Castro died and the dictator Raul Castro remains," said Soler.

Dissidents also laid low in Santiago de Cuba, the eastern city where Castro's ashes will be laid to rest next Sunday.

"We won't conduct any actions against the regime in the streets in the next days, especially out of concern for the repression we could face," said former prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer.

Nightclubs remained closed, sports events were cancelled and alcohol was banned on Sunday as a mark of respect for the long-time leader.

A giant photo of Castro was hung outside the National Library on Revolution Square in Havana.

A public wake will be held at the city's Jose Marti memorial and throngs of people are expected to pay their last respects on Monday and Tuesday.

President Raul Castro said his older brother's remains would be cremated. There was no official confirmation of whether that had yet happened, although some reports suggested it took place on Saturday.

Castro's ashes will go on a four-day, island-wide procession starting Wednesday before being buried in Santiago de Cuba on December 4.

Cuba's second city was the scene of Castro's ill-fated first attempt at a communist revolution in 1953 - six years before he succeeded in ousting the US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Activities scaled back

During the mourning period there are to be no activities or public performances, flags are to fly at half-mast in public buildings and radio and television are to broadcast "informative, patriotic and historical programming," authorities said.

The news of Castro's death drew strong reactions across the world. He was revered by many Cubans but denounced by others as an oppressive dictator.

US President Barack Obama, who reversed more than five decades of U.S. hostility toward Cuba and re-established diplomatic ties last year, called Castro a "singular figure" and said the US would extend "a hand of friendship" to Cuba.

But Obama's elected successor, Donald Trump, issued a blunt statement calling Castro "a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades."

Watch video 03:12

Cuba's future without Castro – Q & A with Bert Hoffmann, GIGA Institute

mm/kl (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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