By Andrew Cawthorne
HAVANA, March 1 (Reuters) - Cuban security forces on Monday detained activists and blocked foreign journalists and diplomats, including the chief U.S. envoy to Havana, from attending the trial of Cuba's four best-known dissidents.
``It's obvious the system can't stand the scrutiny, even from several blocks away. It's not a very good day for Cuban justice,'' said senior U.S. diplomat Michael Kozak after being escorted by police from the courthouse in the capital's Marianno district.
Kozak and diplomats from Switzerland, South Africa, Spain, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Canada, Sweden and Britain, together with some 20 foreign reporters and activists, were prevented by security forces from entering the Havana Tribunal.
Family members of the four defendants were allowed into the trial, which has generated immense international pressure on the government of Fidel Castro. Several trials of lesser-known dissidents last year provoked small but, for Cuba, rare public protests and clashes in the streets between government opponents and sympathisers.
The so-called ``Group of Four,'' who angered the government in 1996 and 1997 with open criticism of the ruling Communist Party and calls for reforms, are accused jointly of ``other acts against the security of the state in relation with a crime of sedition,'' according to a charge sheet obtained by Reuters.
They are accused of trying to disrupt elections, threatening foreign investors, lying about the economy, receiving support from the U.S. Interests' Section, and having links with alleged anti-Castro groups in the United States.
The state prosecutor is seeking six years imprisonment for Vladimiro Roca, 56, the son of deceased Cuban communist hero Blas Roca and himself a former fighter pilot in Castro's Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR).
The prosecutor also is seeking a five-year sentence for the other three dissidents -- economist Marta Beatriz Roque, 53, academic Felix Bonne, 59, and lawyer Rene Gomez Manzano, 55.
All four have been jailed for the past 19 months.
Havana denies it holds prisoners of conscience and labels the four, as it does other opposition figures, ``counter- revolutionary'' criminals backed by its foreign enemies.
Dozens of other dissidents were temporarily detained on Monday after a weekend round-up, while others got verbal warnings or personal visits from security officers to prevent them from showing up at the court, dissident groups said.
Foreign reporters and diplomats began arriving for the trial around 7 a.m. local time (1200 GMT), but they were prevented by police from getting near court who cordoned off the streets and watched them carefully.
``You can't be here, and if you stay, the police will have to take measures,'' one official from the government's International Press Centre said, asking reporters to move out of sight of the court building.
Asked by U.S. diplomat Kozak on whose orders observers were being moved, a security official told him: ``Revolutionary authorities.'' Kozak's verbal protest was then answered by: ``That doesn't interest me.''
Relatives entering the tribunal said they were praying for an acquittal.
``My hope is to take Vladimiro home with me when I leave here,'' said Magaly de Armas, wife of Vladimiro Roca, as she entered. ``Let justice be done, and for me justice is synonymous with freedom.''
Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited