Last updated: August 13, 2006 11:06 pm

Havana releases birthday photos of Castro

Fidel Castro, Cuban president, marked his 80th birthday on Sunday by authorising the first visual confirmation he is alive after handing power to his brother Raúl two weeks ago, and issuing a statement that he is in stable condition but not out of the woods.

Four photographs published in the official Juventud Rebelde newspaper showed Mr Castro from the chest up sitting, talking on the telephone, and holding a newspaper supplement published on Saturday.

“To say the stability has improved considerably is not to tell a lie. To say that the period of recovery will be short and there is now no risk would be absolutely incorrect,” Castro said in the message. “I suggest you be optimistic and at the same time always prepared to receive bad news.”

Raúl Castro made his first public appearance as Cuba’s interim president on Sunday, receiving Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s president, as he arrived to celebrate the elder Castro’s birthday.

Various officials have stated that Fidel Castro underwent emergency surgery for intestinal bleeding some time between July 26 and July 31, that the surgery was successful and that he was recovering normally for a man of his age but would have to work far less to avoid renewed bleeding.

Mr Castro assured the public in the message he was following doctors’ orders.

But Ricardo Alarcon, National Assembly president, made clear in a series of interviews over the past week that slowing down will be hard for Mr Castro.

“Imagine Fidel Castro sitting or lying on a bed quietly. Not moving around. Not talking to others. It’s the first time in his life. When I saw him, we made jokes about that,” Mr Alarcon told NBC news.

Cuba remained calm on Sunday as people engaged in voluntary work, cleaned neighbourhoods and donated blood in Mr Castro’s honour.

Throughout the leadership crisis, people have gone about their daily business and enjoyed summer holidays, though there is an unmistakable undercurrent of anxiety over the future without Fidel - the only leader most Cubans have ever known.

“It is like going down the steep part of one of the roller-coasters you see in the movies. You hope to come to the end and start moving up, but you never know,” said Gabriela Sanchez, a young woman sweeping the sidewalk outside her Havana apartment building.

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