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US urges Cuba to free prisoners, push changes

The United States has called on Cuba to release all political prisoners and show real signs of change as the two uneasy neighbors work to improve a half-century of strained relations.

world Updated: Apr 17, 2009 08:03 IST

The United States has called on Cuba to release all political prisoners and show real signs of change as the two uneasy neighbors work to improve a half-century of strained relations.

At a news conference in Mexico City on Thursday, visiting US President Barack Obama referred to his announcement on Monday that Washington would lift curbs on travel and money transfers by Cuban-Americans to the island.

"I think what you saw was ... A show of good faith, on the part of the United States, that we want to recast our relationship," Obama said.

The two neighbors do not have full diplomatic relations, and the United States has had a full economic embargo on Cuba since 1962.

Obama acknowledged that a relationship "that effectively has been frozen for 50 years is not going to thaw overnight.

"And so having taken the first step, I think it's very much in our interest to see whether Cuba is also ready to change."

Washington does not expect Cuba to change overnight -- "that would be unrealistic," Obama said. "But we do expect that Cuba will send signals that they're interested in liberalizing.