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Ofelia Acevedo, the widow of Oswaldo Paya, is commiserated at Paya's funeral in Havana yesterday. AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa

Was a Cuban dissident's car 'rammed off the road'?

An official enquiry has been launched after the car carrying Oswaldo Paya, who fought single-party rule for decades, hit a tree.

THE FAMILY of one of Cuba’s best-known political dissidents – who died in a car crash on Sunday – have claimed the car in which he was travelling was deliberately rammed off the road.

The son of Oswaldo Paya made the accusation to a BBC reporter yesterday, at his funeral Mass attended by hundreds.

Paya, 60, was the leader of the island nation’s Christian Liberation Movement and had waged a political campaign for decades against the Communist Party’s constitutionally-protected status as the “leading force of society”.

He was best known for a petition launched in 1987, which collected tens of thousands of signatures from Cuban citizens hoping to secure the rights to freedom of speech and assembly, at a time when few would openly challenge the Communist regime of Fidel Castro.

His efforts saw him twice nominated for the Nobel peace price, while he had also won the Sakharov Prize, an accolade awarded by the European Parliament to people who campaign for freedom of thought.

Another of Paya’s children, made similar claims to the Spanish language service of CNN, insisting her father’s vehicle had been rammed.

“We think it’s not an accident,” Rosa Maria Paya said, in remarks carried by the Guardian. “They wanted to do harm and they ended up killing my father.”

The State-run International Press Centre has insisted that the car in which Paya and three others – including two visiting European politicians – were travelling had simply gone out of control.

Further clarification on the exact circumstances surrounding the crash are likely to emerge when the two Europeans – Angel Carromero of Spain’s ruling Popular Party, and Aron Modig of Sweden’s Christian Democrats – are eventually released from hospital.

In a statement, the White House described Paya as a “tireless champion for greater civic and human rights”, and lamented his death as “profoundly heartbreaking and infuriating”.

Gallery: Archive photos of Cuba’s Havana from the early 1900s