Monday, August 14, 2006

First Photographs Released of President Fidel Castro in Hospital

Fresh Castro pictures published

Cuba's official Communist Party newspaper has published new pictures of ailing President Fidel Castro.

The photos show Mr Castro in bed, smiling and shaking hands with the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, on the Cuban leader's 80th birthday.

The six pictures appear on the online version of the newspaper Granma.

It follows the publication on Sunday of the first photographs of President Castro since he underwent intestinal surgery two weeks ago.

Mr Castro's brother, Raul, 75, who has temporarily taken over the president's duties, appears in one of the pictures.

'Emotional exchange'

Granma called the bedside visit "Three Hours of Emotional Exchange".

The photos show gifts being exchanged and the two leaders eating what Granma called a "frugal snack".

The accompanying story quoted Mr Chavez - one of Mr Castro's closest political allies - as saying: "This is the best visit I've ever had in my life."

He is reported to have expressed admiration for the Cuban leader's stamina, saying: "What kind of human being is this? What material is it made of?"

The Venezuelan leader is quoted as saying that Mr Castro is made of caguairan - likening Cuba's revolutionary leader to a sturdy tropical hardwood tree.

Earlier Raul Castro made his first public appearance since taking over, welcoming Mr Chavez to Havana.

Official celebrations to mark Fidel Castro's 80th birthday on Sunday were cancelled but a giant concert was held in the Cuban capital, Havana, on Saturday.

Cubans warned

On Sunday, Mr Castro also released a statement, saying his health had improved considerably but warning that his recovery would not be quick.

"I ask you all to be optimistic and at the same time to be ready to face any adverse news," the statement said.

He thanked Cubans for their loving support and said he "felt very happy" on his birthday.

Immediately after surgery, Mr Castro asked for his birthday celebrations to be postponed.

But hundreds of people attended a huge concert on Saturday, held outside the US Interests Section in Havana and lasting all night.

Mr Castro became Cuban president 47 years ago after leading the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista.

He is one of the world's longest-ruling leaders, and has outlasted nine US presidents.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/08/14 12:33:29 GMT

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