HAVANA (Reuters) - The husband of Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez said he was attacked by government supporters as he waited on Friday to confront state security agents accused of detaining and beating his wife two weeks ago.
Sanchez, whose writing about the hardships of Cuban life were praised this week by President Barack Obama, said men believed to be government agents forced her into a car and hit her repeatedly in a brief detention on November 6.
Reinaldo Escobar, also a blogger, said he had gone to a Havana intersection hoping that state security agents would respond to a challenge he issued earlier to meet there for a "verbal duel" about his wife's incident.
He said he was speaking to reporters when, in what appeared to be an orchestrated event, several hundred people gathered and began shouting "Viva Fidel" and "Viva la Revolucion."
About 20 of his supporters began shouting back and the situation turned violent, he said.
"They pulled my hair, hit me with a shoe, tore my shirt, pulled away my bag of books. I lost my glasses," Escobar, aged 62, told Reuters.
His wife, who was not with him at the attack, wrote on Twitter: "Until when will the language of force, of intolerance and disrespect for the opinion of others be the one that prevails in my country?"
The Cuban government responded quickly to Escobar's accusations, emailing to foreign journalists a story published in the website laRepublica.es with the headline "The Cuban people are tired of Yoani Sanchez."
The website, which describes itself as "The free newspaper, for an informed citizenry," said state security agents saved Escobar from injury when he was surrounded by young people shouting "This street is revolutionary" and "Down with traitors" to the beat of a conga drum.
The agents took him from the scene "so he would not suffer the ire of a people that has tired of so many provocations," the website said.
Escobar said a group of men grabbed him as he was being attacked by the government supporters, put him in a car, drove him to a neighborhood on Havana's outskirts and dropped him off without saying a word. He said they did not strike him.
Cuba's government, which views its opponents as mercenaries working for the United States and other countries, has said nothing about the attack on Sanchez.
But laRepublica.es said the "supposed aggression" against her had been "totally refuted" by comments it published earlier in the day by doctors who attended her and said they found no injuries.
Sanchez has said she considered the incident a warning from the government to quiet her criticism.
On Thursday, she published in her Generation Y blog (www.desdecuba.com/generationy) responses by Obama to seven questions she had sent him by email.
"Your blog provides the world a unique window into the realities of daily life in Cuba. It is telling that the Internet has provided you and other courageous Cuban bloggers with an outlet to express yourself so freely," Obama wrote.
"The government and people of the United States join all of you in looking forward to the day all Cubans can freely express themselves in public without fear and without reprisals," Obama said.
Sanchez, 34, has won several international awards and was named by Time Magazine last year as one of the world's 100 most influential people.
Obama's response added to her international stature as Cuba's leading dissident voice, but she is little known on the island where Internet access is limited.
The Cuban government has made no secret of its distaste for her, but she is among a growing group of young Cubans who have taken to the Internet to express their desire for change on the island.
Reporting by Jeff Franks and Esteban Israel; editing by Anthony Boadle