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Tributes paid to Cuban activist

Cuban dissidents have vowed to press ahead with their fight for more political and civil rights despite the death of prominent activist Oswaldo Paya in a car crash.

Foreign governments from the United States to the European Union sent messages of condolence.

Several hundred relatives, friends and fellow dissidents converged on a chapel in the Cerro neighbourhood Havana for Mr Paya's wake after his body arrived from the eastern province of Granma. As the coffin carrying his remains entered, many applauded.

"He was a person sincerely committed to achieving the best for the Cuban people," said Miriam Leyva, one of the founding members of the activist group Ladies in White.

Earlier at Mr Paya's home, a close associate gave thanks for what he called an outpouring of support.

"I can promise you and assure you we will continue our struggle, our demands for the civil rights of all Cubans," Ernesto Martini told the mourners.

Mr Paya, 60, gained international fame as the lead organiser of the Varela Project, a signature-gathering drive asking authorities for a referendum on guaranteeing rights such as freedom of speech and assembly.

The initiative launched a decade ago was seen as the biggest non-violent campaign to change the system Fidel Castro established after the 1959 Cuban revolution.

Mr Paya died on Sunday afternoon along with another dissident, Harold Cepero Escalante, in the crash in La Gavina, 500 miles east of the capital. Authorities said the driver of the rental car carrying Mr Paya and Mr Cepero lost control and struck a tree.

Fellow passengers Jens Aron Modig, a Swedish citizen, and Angel Carromero, a Spaniard, were taken to hospital with minor injuries and later released. It was not immediately clear who was behind the wheel.

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