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Family of dead Cuban dissident seeks residency in the U.S.

Ofelia Acevedo, wife of Oswaldo Paya, (C), one of Cuba's best-known dissidents, mourns as cemetery workers place a crown of flowers on the t
Ofelia Acevedo, wife of Oswaldo Paya, (C), one of Cuba's best-known dissidents, mourns as cemetery workers place a crown of flowers on the t

By David Adams

MIAMI (Reuters) - The widow and children of prominent Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, who died in a car accident last year, have moved to the United States because of alleged harassment by authorities on the communist-run island, relatives and political allies said.

The family, including widow Ofelia Acevedo and children Rosa Maria Paya and Reinaldo Paya, flew to Miami Thursday, said Antonio Diaz, a spokesman in Miami for the Christian Liberation Movement led by Paya until his death in a car crash in July.

The decision comes two months after Rosa Maria Paya returned to Cuba from an overseas tour lobbying for an international investigation into her father's death.

During various stops in Europe and the United States, including a meeting with a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, she repeatedly accused Cuba authorities of harassment against her family.

"This is a family that has been persecuted all their lives, going back 25 years," said Diaz. "The harassment has increased since Oswaldo's death."

The Cuban government had no immediate response to the family's departure. Cuba's leaders consider dissident groups on the island to be traitorous mercenaries in the employ of the United States and other enemies.

Under a law passed last year Cubans enjoy greater freedom to travel, although some restrictions still apply. Cuba has allowed several dissidents to leave and re-enter the country since the law was introduced, and it has in the past let some dissidents emigrate on a permanent basis.

U.S. officials typically do not comment on immigration cases due to privacy laws. In March the U.S. government joined calls for an independent investigation into the car crash.

The family is not believed to have sought political asylum but rather is expected to seek U.S. residency under the Cuban Adjustment Act which grants special immigration benefits to Cubans, friends of the family told Reuters. The family is expected to stay in south Florida, home to a large Cuban American exile community.

Paya, 60, was a longtime leader among Cuba's dissidents and in 2002 was awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for human rights for his Varela Project, an unsuccessful campaign to reform Cuba's one-party political system.

Paya's family and other dissidents have blamed the Cuban government for the accident that killed Paya, alleging that government agents ran the car off the road to kill him.

(Writing by David Adams; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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