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Castro denies { May 11 2002 }

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Saturday, May 11, 2002
Castro Denies Weapon Charges by U.S.
HAVANA (AP) - Fidel Castro vehemently denied American accusations that Cuba is trying to develop biological weapons, calling the charges ``lies'' in a televised speech and saying his country has nothing to hide.

Speaking live on state television, Castro called on U.S. officials to ``present even the most minimum proof'' of the allegation Undersecretary of State John Bolton made Monday.

``The only thing true in Bolton's lies is that Cuba is 90 miles away from United States territory,'' said Castro, adding that the United States would be unable to provide evidence of the claim because such evidence ``does not and cannot exist.''

``No one has ever presented a single shred of evidence that our homeland has conceived a program that develops nuclear, chemical or biological weapons,'' Castro said. ``The doors of our institutions are open ... Cuba has absolutely nothing to hide.''

Castro's speech Friday was Cuba's first detailed response to the charges. In a brief note on Thursday, Havana had simply described Bolton's statements as ``loathsome.''

The Cuban government has called out more than 100,000 people for a Saturday morning rally in a Havana suburb to denounce Washington's ``fallacies.''

In an address to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group in Washington, Bolton said the Bush administration believes Cuba is trying to develop biological weapons and transferring its technical expertise to countries hostile to the United States.

The accusation marked the first time the United States raised the possibility of involvement by Cuba, the only outright U.S. foe in the Western Hemisphere, in weapons of mass destruction.

It seemed aimed at adding to the Bush administration's rationale for keeping Cuba on a list of countries accused of engaging in international terrorism.

Castro said that his country opposes terrorism and noted that Cuba publicly condemned the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States the same day they took place.

He said any Cuban scientist discovered to be working on biological weapons for the transfer to other countries would be tried for treason.

The Cuban leader described the United States as ``a superpower that has thousands of nuclear weapons ... but cannot vanquish the human being.''

Castro's government in the past has accused the United States of using biological means to destroy crops and livestock on the island.

Castro's comments came on the same day that Cuban activists mounted an unprecedented challenge to his 43-year-old rule, delivering a petition to the legislature demanding a referendum for broad changes in Cuba's one-party socialist system.

The referendum would ask voters if they favor civil liberties such as freedom of speech and assembly, and amnesty for political prisoners.

The petition, with more than 11,000 signatures, was handed in two days before a planned visit from former President Carter, an advocate for human rights and democracy who has been pressured by the White House and the Cuban exile community to press those themes during his trip.

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