Cuban leader Castro steps down

By Prensa Latina

Havana : Cuban leader Fidel Castro stepped down Tuesday as president and leader of the country’s military, citing physical constraints, but said he would continue to guide his nation and serve “as a soldier in the battle of ideas”.

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In a message published in the Cuban Communist Party daily Granma announcing his resignation, the 81-year old leader said “I will neither aspire to, nor accept, the positions of president of the state council and commander-in-chief”.

The new National Assembly is scheduled Sunday to elect a president to succeed the leader of Cuban Revolution that toppled the government of Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

Castro held various posts in the government till July 31, 2006 when he delegated power to younger brother Raul after he underwent surgery for unspecified intestinal problems and has not been seen in public since then.

“It would be a betrayal to my conscience to accept a responsibility requiring more mobility and dedication than I am physically able to offer. This I say devoid of all drama,” Castro said in the statement.

The Cuban leader said during recuperation he had carefully assessed the possibility of his stepping down and continued to “prepare our people both politically and psychologically for my absence after so many years of struggle. I kept saying that my recovery “was not without risks.”

Castro had been elected to the 614-member National Assembly in the Jan 20 elections.

On Sunday, in its first session, the national assembly is to choose from among its ranks the 31 members of the council of state, whose president will be both the head of state and the head of government.

“The adversary to be defeated is extremely strong; however, we have been able to keep it at bay for half a century,” Castro noted.

“For many years I have occupied the honourable position of President. I always had the necessary prerogatives to carry forward the revolutionary work with the support of the overwhelming majority of the people,” he said.

“My wishes have always been to discharge my duties to my last breath. That’s all I can offer”, the Cuban leader said in the statement.