The EU has agreed to lift sanctions it imposed on Cuba in 2003.

The measures were imposed in protest at the imprisonment of Cuban dissidents.

There are about 230 political prisoners in Cuba, according to the illegal but tolerated Cuban Commission for Human Rights.

Unlike the 1962 US embargo, the EU sanctions do not prevent trade and investment, but do include a freeze on high-level visits.

The sanctions were suspended in 2005 but their abolition is an attempt to encourage more reforms by President Raul Castro.

On 19 February, the EU said it was ready to seek ways to re-launch ties with Cuba following the announcement that President Fidel Castro would not return to power.

The lifting of sanctions is aimed at encouraging democratic reforms on the Communist island.

The move will pave the way for a new dialogue with Cuba, but comes with calls that it addresses human rights' concerns and free political prisoners.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said relations will be reviewed in one year.

The move comes despite US calls for the world to remain tough on Havana.