The European Union has opened its first diplomatic office in Havana with the aim of improving relations with Cuba.

The European Commissioner for Economic Development, Poul Nielsen, who took part in the formal opening said the EU planned to put into practice a wide range of projects from social programmes to the modernisation of the Cuban economy.

The EU is now Cuba's largest trading partner and almost two million Europeans go to Cuba on holiday every year.

Meanwhile eight US lawmakers, the largest group yet to visit Cuba, today unveiled plans to seek an end to tight US restrictions on US nationals travelling to Cuba.

US citizens - other than Cuban-Americans visiting relatives, may travel to neighbouring Cuba only with express US Treasury Department permission, for educational, political, sports, cultural or academic exchanges, or to work as journalists.

Direct travel between the two countries takes place only on special charters for officially eligible travellers.