Afro-Cuban priests predict social unrest in 2010

Havana, Cuba - Some of Cuba's leading Afro-Cuban priests are predicting social unrest in 2010 and have called on the older generation of leaders to step aside.

The priests are from the influential Santeria religion, a mix of Catholicism and traditional African religions introduced by slaves.

They made their annual forecast after conducting animal sacrifices.

Their prediction is seen as politically contentious in a country still ruled by the aging Castro brothers.

The priests - or babalawos as they are called - made their forecast following a secretive New Year's Eve ritual on the outskirts of Havana.

Their prediction: a year of social and political unrest, struggles for power, and treachery.

They also warned that there could be a coup d'etat or other sudden political change.

Speaking about their findings, one of the leading babalawos, Victor Betancourt, said it was time for a new generation of leaders to take over.

"Times change. The older generations should pass their experience on to young people because they are better prepared," he said.

Cuba has been ruled for the past 50 years by the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul.

Very few here have made such demands for generational change publicly.

Santeria has deep roots in Cuban society, where about a third of the population are of African descent.

Its religious practices have generally been tolerated by the Communist-led authorities, partly because it was heavily repressed before the revolution.

This is by far the most overtly political annual New Year forecast.

The priests believed 2009 would be a year of conflict between neighbouring countries and warned of the necessity to foment respect within families.

In 2008 they failed to predict that Fidel Castro would step down as president.

A rival Santeria group with closer ties to the government came out with its own prediction saying that 2010 would be a year of improving health, possibly referring to Fidel Castro's continuing recovery from major surgery.