By ANITA SNOW Associated Press Writer
HAVANA (AP) - Alarmed by wide press coverage of a clash between Cuban dissidents and communist militants ahead of an international summit, President Fidel Castro explained the government's version of events in a rare news conference that wound up early Thursday.
During an eight-hour meeting with about two dozen correspondents that began Wednesday night, Castro presented 14 people who were at the park Wednesday morning when two would-be participants were roughed up. Castro said three would-be protesters were arrested.
Castro and the ``witnesses,'' brought to the Palace of the Revolution to talk with journalists, implied that the clash was a spontaneous reaction by ordinary Cubans to political acts they considered distasteful.
``There is irritation, there is frustration ... for this huge attempt to sabotage the summit,'' Castro said, sitting at a long banquet table with the witnesses at his side.
Castro last week accused opposition groups of trying to derail the event, naming many dissidents on live television. Opposition leaders maintain they do not want to disrupt the summit, but would try to use it to carry their criticisms of the government to the world.
``This is an ideological war, we have to defend our ideas,'' said Nancy Wilson, 42, head of a a construction crew that clashed with dissidents at the park.
The news conference demonstrated just how sensitive Cuba is about its image in the days leading up to the Ibero American summit, which brings together the heads of state of Spain, Portugal and most Latin American nations on Monday and Tuesday.
During the gathering with reporters, which began shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday and wound up after 2 a.m. Thursday, Castro offered no apologies for the arrest of three people following the aborted park protest.
``If there is someone who breaks the law (during the summit) our authorities will not hesitate to arrest them and submit them to trial so that they receive appropriate sanctions,'' he said.
With the summit in mind, the opposition Lawton Foundation had invited reporters to cover a march Wednesday morning at Dolores Park.
When reporters arrived they found government supporters putting together an impromptu street party, setting up speakers that blared salsa music and attracted a crowd to dance - a technique often used to distract and scare off protesters.
When two would-be demonstrators tried to approach foreign journalists at the park, scores of government supporters shouted and roughed up the men.
``Long live Fidel! Long live the revolution!'' government supporters shouted.
One of the two men attacked by the crowd had his mouth bloodied. Another man was taken forcibly from a house where he was hiding and driven away in a Russian-made Lada sedan. During the ruckus, an unidentified man in a passing truck apparently tried to hit a CNN cameraman and missed, instead striking his camera.
Castro said his investigation discovered that none of the three arrested men even lived in Havana. Two were from Matanzas province to the east and one from Pinar del Rio province to the west.
said all had criminal records for crimes including
bicycle theft, vagrancy and illegal possession of drugs.