Cuba walks out of UN hall to protest Bush speech

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UNITED NATIONS, Sep 25 (Reuters) Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque walked out of the UN General Assembly hall today after President George W Bush said ''the long rule of a cruel dictator is nearing its end'' in Havana.

Cuba's UN mission said in a statement that it left the Assembly during the speech ''as a sign of profound rejection of the arrogant and mediocre statement by President Bush.'' ''The Cuban people are ready for their freedom,'' Bush said, in an apparent reference to Cuban leader Fidel Castro's illness that forced him to hand over power to his brother a year ago.

''And as that nation enters a period of transition, the United Nations must insist on free speech, free assembly, and ultimately, free and competitive elections,'' Bush said.

In reply, Cuba condemned ''every letter of his infamous tirade,'' the statement said, adding that Bush was responsible for the murder of more than 600,000 civilians in Iraq, had authorized the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo and kidnapped people on clandestine flights.

''He is a criminal and has no moral authority or credibility to judge any other country,'' Cuba said.

Backing up Cuba was Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega who said Castro had shown ''great solidarity with humanity'' in spite of the U.S. ''blockade'' through economic sanctions against the Communist-run island.

Ortega said Bush had spoken of Cuba with a ''total lack of respect.'' REUTERS AE PM2350

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