Castro accuses US of inciting mass exodus from Cuba

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MIAMI (Agencies) - President Fidel Castro accused the United States of encouraging terrorism at sea by granting asylum to Cuban refugees from hijacked boats, and of pursuing a 'cynical, deceitful' immigration policy. In a late-night television address to the nation on Thursday, which was also broadcast in the US, Mr Castro said that a Cuban naval officer had been killed in a boat-hijacking this week and that Washington had tried to cover up the crime.

Mr Castro's address came less than two hours after the US Attorney-General announced emergency measures to stem a feared exodus of illegal immigrants from Cuba to the US, including the seizure of vessels. 'If federal law enforcement officers find probable cause to believe a vessel is being used in an attempt to bring undocumented migrants to the US in violation of US law, the vessel will be seized,' Janet Reno said.

Mr Castro called on the US 'to discuss . . . an end to the blockade and this policy of constant incitement of crimes, terrorism and illegal exits from the country.'

In Monday's incident at the port of Mariel, a military mechanic who commandeered a government boat has been accused by Havana of killing a navy lieutenant before he took the vessel to pick up 25 friends and relatives and fled to the US. The mechanic, Leonel Macias Gonzalez, 19, was being detained by US authorities in Key West, Florida. But no decision has been made on whether to charge him or deport him. The other 25 were released.

Mr Castro said the body of a navy lieutenant, Roberto Aguilar Reyes, was recovered on Wednesday and added: 'If we hadn't found the body they would have continued propagandising that the man who hijacked the boat was the man who we say was killed.' He lambasted Washington for 'a lack of seriousness, of dignity' in failing to acknowledge that a crime had been committed.

Ms Reno said that the solution to emigration pressures from Cuba was 'rapid, fundamental and far-reaching political reform.' She added: 'An uncontrolled exodus from Cuba does nothing to address Cuba's internal problems and places large numbers of persons at risk on the high seas.'

In the Florida Keys, US customs officers captured three recent Cuban emigres, believed to be Miami residents, after the trio allegedly dropped off 22 undocumented Cubans from their speedboat. The three told customs officials they had found the 22 Cubans stranded near the Keys.

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