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EU-Cuba meeting postponed: Spanish presidency

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(MADRID) - A ministerial meeting between Cuba and the European Union scheduled to be held in Madrid next week has been postponed, the Spanish foreign ministry said Tuesday.

It said a new date for the talks, which had been scheduled for April 6, has yet to be decided.

"Following reports appearing in various media about the holding of the next session of EU-Cuba political dialogue at ministerial level," the Spanish foreign ministry "wants to confirm that the said meeting will take place in Spain, at a date still to be decided through diplomatic channels," the ministry said in a statement.

It was not clear why the meeting had been postponed.

Cuban Foreign Bruno Rodriguez and his Spanish counterpart, Miguel Angel Moratinos, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, were to meet to discuss issues including human rights and political prisoners in Cuba.

Moratinos was to have represented EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, after her office said on Monday she was unable to attend the talks.

Spain, which took over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU from Sweden on January 1, has been at the forefront of efforts to boost relations with Cuba, a former Spanish colony.

But the EU Commission last month voiced deep regret at the death of leading Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata, who died after a long hunger strike, and called on Havana to improve human rights.

Another Cuban dissident, Guillermo Farinas, has been on hunger strike for the past month. On Monday, he rejected a Spanish government offer to fly him to Spain.

The EU suspended ties with Cuba after a major roundup of 75 dissidents in March 2003, but resumed aid cooperation in 2008. Spain and Cuba renewed ties in 2007.

Spain's Socialist government wants the bloc to modify its 1996 common position on Cuba, which links dialogue to freedoms and human rights on the island, arguing it has yielded few results.

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