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US eases Cuban restrictions ahead of Obama visit

The United States has eased restrictions on Cuba ahead of a visit by President Barack Obama. The move is seen as part of the "Cuban Thaw."

The Obama administration announced on Monday a series of reforms to US-Cuban relations, including allowing Cubans greater access to US financial institutions and reducing travel limits.

Under the new rules, Cubans will be allowed to open US bank accounts and authorize those living in the US to send remittances, the US government said.

Obama travels to Cuba on March 21 for a two-day visit.

The trip is part of moves towards normalizing relations with the island nation, for several decades cut off from its neighbor 90 miles to the north.

Amendments to US regulations will also allow individuals to visit the Communist-ruled country for "people-to-people educational travel," the US Treasury and Commerce Departments wrote in a statement.

Cuba and the US restored diplomatic relations in July. Ties had been severed in 1961 during the Cold War. The US said it would continue its commercial, economic and financial embargo, which makes it illegal for US companies to do business with Cuba. Obama has called for the ending of the embargo.

In December 2014, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced the beginning of a process of normalizing relations between Cuba and the US. The agreement led to the lifting of some US travel restrictions, fewer restrictions on remittances, US bank access to the Cuban financial system and the re-establishment of a US embassy in Havana.

jh/kms (Reuters/AFP)

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