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Two weeks after the largest anti-government demonstrations in decades in Cuba, activist groups say more than 500 protestors are still missing.

Thousands of people across the island marched through the streets in several towns and cities on 11 July, calling for democracy and sweeping economic reform in the country amid major food and medicine shortages.

Scores of people were arrested by plain clothes police officers and many families say they still haven’t heard from their loved ones or been informed of their whereabouts.

Sky News is unable to independently verify the figures of the missing but the lawyers’ group Cubalex says hundreds of people, many of them teenagers, have been detained.

Katiuska Mustelier Sosa is a Cuban exile living in Miami and says her brother, Enrique, has not been seen by friends or family on the island since he attended a protest in Guantanamo.

Katiuska shared a video with Sky News, filmed by another protestor, showing Enrique, 38, marching through the streets chanting “libertard!” meaning freedom.

Katiuska Mustelier Sosa's brother has been missing since the protests two weeks ago
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Katiuska Mustelier Sosa’s brother has been missing since the protest two weeks ago

She believes he was arrested shortly afterwards and is now being held at a state security prison although she does not know exactly where.

“My family hasn’t been able to see him. We’re very worried, because we don’t know what state he’s in,” she said “we worry he has been beaten.”

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The family fears history might be repeating itself because 14 years ago Katiuska’s father, a political prisoner, disappeared from jail with just two months left on his sentence. She moved to Miami four years ago but two of her three children, Sarai, 11, and Daniel, 15, remain in Cuba.

“It is better for me to be here so I can send money back and they can eat,” she said, “I’m very worried for my brother – but I’m also worried for my family and my kids too. They’re very scared, they say ‘mum we’re worried you’re going to say too much over there, and then we won’t be able to see you again’. They’re really scared, because the regime is capable of doing whatever they want against us, that’s for sure.

Many Cuban exiles have now made Florida their home
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Many Cuban exiles have now made Florida their home

“I think this is the beginning of an uprising, but I know it won’t be easy. Because this government – this dictatorship – will not abandon power,” she added, “For this reason we need international help and support.”

Janniset Rivero, a spokesperson for the Center for a Free Cuba based in Washington DC, believes more than 500 protestors are missing and says many have been convicted in summary trials with no defence present. “It is much more than that because they are continuing arresting people now,” she says, “in Cuba there is no rule of law. Those trials are illegal and the families haven’t even been able to see the accused.

“The regime is afraid of the people because people have gone to the streets to shout freedom so they are now trying to exert control over the population.”

The Cuban government claims there is a disinformation campaign surrounding the protests.

Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, General Director for the US Division of Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said summary trials that protestors in Cuba are receiving are not unfair and that they are receiving counsel.

“It is part of the Cuban criminal system as it is part of the criminal system of many countries,” he said, “and there’s nothing unfair or extraordinary about it. It is part of the many lies that are being disseminated in Cuba.”

Ramon Saul Sanchez has devoted his life to fighting the Cuban government from Miami
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Ramon Saul Sanchez has devoted his life to fighting the Cuban government from Miami

In Little Havana, the heart of Miami’s Cuban community they have witnessed ill-fated attempts to overthrow the communist government but many believe this time is different. Ramon Saul Sanchez left Cuba at 12 years old and has devoted his life to fighting the government from Miami. He thinks the use of social media with protestors filming and broadcasting themselves online is a fundamental difference to previous uprisings.

“This is why the regime immediately turns off internet when there has been a revolt,” he said, “What they’re doing right now is slowing it down so pictures and videos can’t be sent so easily. If we had social media 20 years ago what we’ve seen now probably would have happened then.”

There haven’t been any widespread protests in Cuba since 11 July and Sanchez believes that although people may not take to the streets again today or tomorrow, they will eventually. “I now believe I will be able to return to Cuba again in my lifetime,” he says.

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Couple ‘likely dead’ after yacht hijacked by escaped convicts

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Couple 'likely dead' after yacht hijacked by escaped convicts

An American couple who disappeared a week ago after their catamaran was hijacked by three escaped convicts are likely dead, police have said.

Police Commissioner Don McKenzie said the prisoners had escaped custody on the Caribbean island of Grenada on the 18 February and the following day commandeered a catamaran named Simplicity – with Kathy Brandel and Ralph Hendry on board.

“Information suggests that while travelling between Grenada and St Vincent, they disposed of the occupants,” Commissioner McKenzie said.

The couple was last seen on the night the prisoners escaped and their boat was later tracked leaving the Grenada late at night at an unusual speed.

Police in St Vincent and the Grenadines captured the three fugitives on Wednesday, he said, adding that a team from Grenada had been dispatched to collaborate on “having a complete and thorough investigation of the matters at hand”.

The island nations are separated by about 85 nautical miles.

Ron Mitchell, 30, Trevon Robertson, 19, and 25-year-old Abita Stanislaus were being held at the South Saint George Police Station near Grenada’s southwestern tip on charges of robbery with violence, when they escaped.

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Mitchell also faces counts of rape, attempted rape and indecent assault.

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Police from St Vincent said in a statement they had discovered the ship with no bodies but items strewn across the deck and possible blood on board.

On Monday the suspects appeared in court in St Vincent on four immigration counts, to which they pleaded guilty, and they had been remanded into custody with sentencing set for 4 March.

St Vincent Police Superintendent Junior Simmons said that though the couple are presumed dead, “the investigation and search for the missing persons continues.”

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Taylor Swift’s dad accused of punching photographer in face after Sydney show

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Taylor Swift's dad accused of punching photographer in face after Sydney show

An Australian photographer claims he was punched by Taylor Swift’s dad in Sydney following the singer’s concert.

Ben McDonald said he told police the incident happened at Neutral Bay Wharf, where Swift and her dad had just come ashore from a yacht hours after the singer’s final show in the city.

While officers did not release names, police said they are investigating an alleged assault by a 71-year-old man on a 51-year-old man at 2.30am local time.

Swift’s representatives have not responded to a request for comment, but a spokesperson told Rolling Stone magazine two people were “aggressively pushing” to get to Swift.

They added that the people grabbed security and threatened a member of the singer’s staff.

Mr McDonald said media had been waiting to picture the star as she walked towards two cars.

“There were about four or five security there and at one point, one of the American security started shoving his umbrella into me and my camera and then Taylor got in her car,” he said.

“Someone else came running at me and punched me in the left side of my face.

“Initially, I thought it was an Australian security that was trying to be the hero of the moment in the front of the Americans, but as it turned out it was her father.”

Mr McDonald said he recognised Swift’s father, Scott Swift, from a picture online – adding that he doesn’t have any bruising and didn’t need any treatment.

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“In 23 years, I haven’t been assaulted and punched in the chops, particularly by the talent’s dad,” he said.

“We didn’t go rushing down the jetty. We didn’t go rushing to the back of the boat. We waited for her to come up. Kept it very civil.

“But no, they… put the umbrellas up and umbrellas over her and then shove the umbrellas into our faces and then make out that we’re the ones making contact with them.”

Swift left the country on Tuesday after more than 600,000 fans saw her Eras Tour performance across seven concerts.

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Israel-Hamas war: Joe Biden says he hopes Gaza ceasefire can be agreed ‘by end of the weekend’

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Israel-Hamas war: Joe Biden says he hopes Gaza ceasefire can be agreed 'by end of the weekend'

Joe Biden has said he hopes a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas can be secured by the weekend.

The US president made the remarks during an unannounced visit to the Van Leeuwen ice cream parlour, next door to 30 Rock in New York, on Monday.

Flanked by late night TV show host Seth Meyers, Mr Biden was asked by reporters on when a ceasefire in Gaza could start.

In a surprise turn, he said that he hopes it will take place “by the end of the weekend”.

“My national security advisor (Jake Sullivan) tells me that we’re close, we’re close, we’re not done yet,” he said. “My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire.”

Mr Biden’s comments come as Israel prepares to start a military operation in Rafah – which he has warned against without a “credible” plan to protect civilians.

Pic: AP
Image:
The US president made the remarks during an unannounced visit to the Van Leeuwen ice cream parlour, New York. Pic: AP

Israel has said it will go ahead with an offensive on the city if hostages are not returned by 10 March, which is when Ramadan starts.

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According to NBC News, Sky news’ US partner network, Qatar is mediating talks between Israel and Hamas this week, and ceasefire negotiations have taken place between US, Israeli, Qatari and Egyptian officials in Paris.

Should it happen, it would be the second ceasefire following one in November which saw several hundred Palestinians released from Israeli jails and about 100 hostages freed by Hamas.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu also said earlier on Monday that the Israeli Defence Force proposed a plan for the evacuation of civilians from “fighting areas” to the country’s war cabinet.

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