One of Cuba's best-known dissidents, Oswaldo Paya, leader of the Christian Democratic Movement which collected more than 30,000 signatures calling for a referendum on the island's one-party rule, died on Sunday in a car crash, religious and dissident sources said.
Paya, 60, was traveling in eastern Granma province at the time of the accident, the details of which are not known, the sources said.
According to dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, who broke the news on Twitter, Paya's death was confirmed by the bishop of Granma, Carlos Amador.
Paya's family was not immediately available for comment.
Paya spearheaded a petition campaign calling for a referendum on one-party rule in 2002, handing in more than 30,000 signatures.
The petition drive was rejected by the government, but Paya emerged as the leading advocate of peaceful democratic change in Communist-run Cuba.
Paya received the European Union's top human rights award in 2002, the Sakharov Prize, named after the late Soviet dissident.
He also had been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize by former Czech President Vaclav Havel.
A devout Catholic who was sent to a labor camp in the 1960s for his religious beliefs, Paya overcame intimidation and harassment to build Cuba's first nationwide opposition initiative.
"This is tragic for the family and the human rights and pro-democracy movement in Cuba," Elizardo Sanchez, head of the illegal but tolerated C u ban Commision for Human Rights, told Reuters.
"Paya was considered the most notable political leader of the Cuban opposition," he said.
Paya's campaign for signatures to petition for "moderate reforms to Cuba's one-party state," called the Varela Project, was rejected by President Fidel Castro's government as a U.S. plot to undermine his four-decade rule.
About 40 of Paya's grassroots activists, including his closest aides, were among 75 Castro critics arrested in a March 2003 crackdown on dissent and given jail sentences of up to 28 years.
They were released in 2011.
Paya, a soft-spoken, unassuming medical equipment engineer, continued to call for a national dialogue between Cubans, including members of the ruling Communist Party, to discuss a nonviolent transition to democracy
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