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Chretien sets agenda for Castro talks

Issues related to Cuba's isolation and human rights top Prime Minister Jean Chretien's agenda for meetings this week with Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Chretien played down fears that his visit Monday and Tuesday will cause a diplomatic row with the United States, which maintains an economic blockade of the Communist island.

Canada recognizes Castro's human rights abuses but believes increased trade and political relations are the best way to promote democracy, Chretien said.

"We'll discuss the type of democracy that we wish he (Castro) will have and so on, and human rights," Chretien said of the first visit to Havana by a Canadian leader since Pierre Trudeau in 1976.

He'll discuss the "action plan" Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy signed last year with Castro.

It covers political and economic issues and commits the Castro regime to work for the first time with a democratic country on human rights issues.

Officials already have met on matters including the rights of women and children, Axworthy said.

As well as seeking an end to the U.S. embargo, another irritant for Canada is the Helms-Burton law that penalizes foreign companies and executives for conducting business in Cuba.

Quebec changing tune?

There's a "a mood of change" in Quebec, Chretien said in a speech attacking separatists.

Quebeckers appear ready to unite to end the political uncertainty of separation and finally "benefit fully, like all other Canadians, from the prosperity that is within our reach," he said.

The independence-minded Parti Quebecois and federal Bloc Quebecois are "allergic to change" and blame the federal government for all the province's problems, Chretien told 1,800 Liberal supporters.

"Their rhetoric and arguments haven't changed in the last 30 years they feed on frustrations they themselves carefully nourish," he said.

Aiding change will be former federal Conservative leader Jean Charest, who expects to be acclaimed leader of Quebec's Liberal party on Thursday. He wants to unseat the separatist Quebec government in the next election.

Names in the news

+ William Glaub, 58, will become president and chief executive of Chrysler Canada Ltd., succeeding Yves Landry who died last month. Chicago-born Glaub was Chrysler Corp. general manager of fleet operations. James Holden, 47, a Windsor, Ontario, native, becomes Chrysler Canada chairman.

+ Peter Munk, who founded Barrick Gold Corp., is stepping aside as president to make way for Paul Melnuk, 43, a Barrick senior executive. Munk remains chairman of Canada's biggest gold mining company.

+ Stock promoter Murray Pezim has died of a heart attack in Vancouver. Pezim, a former owner of the B.C. Lions football team, was 77. His firm, Prime Equities International, is run by his son Michael.

+ Tanguay Desgagne of Sherbrooke, Quebec, whistled three classical pieces to become grand champion at the International Whistler's Convention in Louisburg, S.C., for the fourth time in seven years.

Facts and figures

Canada is virtually without inflation as the national rate declined to 0.9 percent in March.

The dollar remains jittery, dropping to 69.69 U.S. cents Friday while a U.S. dollar returned $1.4349 Canadian before bank exchange fees.

There's no change in the Bank of Canada interest rate of 5 percent or the prime lending rate at 6.5 percent.

Stock markets declined, with the Toronto 300 Index at 7,704 points Friday while Montreal was 3,915 points and Vancouver, 636 points.

Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 8, 19, 35, 42, 43 and 48; bonus 29. (April 18) 2, 23, 24, 28, 31 and 35; bonus 29.

Regional briefs

+ An explosion at a brake shoe factory in suburban Montreal injured 35 people, three seriously. The cause of the blast was traced to a malfunctioning industrial oven at Fasa Friction Laboratories in St-Laurent.

+ The Ontario government will put more welfare recipients to work for their benefits, send more young offenders to boot camps and keep teenage mothers in school. Those initiatives were in the "throne speech" of Conservative Premier Mike Harris.

+ Alberta doctors have accepted an 8 percent raise over three years, ending a lengthy dispute with the provincial government. In British Columbia, 45,000 health care workers might strike to back demands for higher pay and improved working conditions.

+ A court ruling has given control of provincial forests to the New Brunswick government. Native loggers, who were ordered to stop taking trees, warn of violence. Also in New Brunswick, the bombing of a police precinct in St. John is believed to have been an act of retaliation by drug dealers. Three officers had minor injuries.