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US expels Cuban diplomats as relations worsen

Washington accuses Havana of failing to protect US embassy staff against 'sonic attacks'.

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US expels Cuban diplomats as relations worsen

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The US government has expelled 15 Cuban diplomats from the country’s embassy in Washington, accusing Havana of failing to protect US staff on the communist-ruled island.

The Cuban ambassador has been told his diplomats have seven days to leave.

The Trump administration’s move marks a further deterioration in relations following President Obama’s policy aimed at closer ties.

“This is not a punishment. Cuba we are not going to say is responsible for these attacks. Let me be clear about that,ok?” said US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. “Cuba has a responsibility under the Vienna Convention to ensure the safety and security of our diplomats and our diplomatic families.”

Last week the US said it was sharply reducing its diplomatic presence in Cuba, saying more than 20 staff had suffered hearing loss, dizziness and fatigue in a series of mysterious attacks.

Cuba denies involvement. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez accused Washington of failing to cooperate.

“The information provided by the United States led the committee of Cuban experts to conclude that it was insufficient, and that the primary obstacles to clarifying the incidents have been the lack of direct access to those affected and to the doctors who examined them,” he said.

Rodriguez added that Canada was cooperating with Cuba after its diplomats reported similar symptoms.

Although diplomatic relations remain in place, the US embassy in Havana is halting regular visa operations for Cubans seeking to visit the United States.

The US is offering only emergency services to American citizens in Cuba.

Several Cuban-American Republican lawmakers had urged that Cuban diplomats be kicked out in protest at Havana over the alleged attacks. But Engage Cuba, a lobby group in favour of thawing relations, said the decision to expel the staff appeared to be purely political.

President Trump, who in June vowed to roll back partially the detente with Cuba after decades of hostility, called the Cuban government “corrupt and destabilising” in his address to the United States last month.