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Fidel Castro appears in public, first time in months

Sunday, October 21, 2012 | 12:14 PM    

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HAVANA, Cuba (AP) -  Fidel Castro has appeared in public for the first time in months, a top hotel executive told The Associated Press on Sunday, challenging persistent rumours that the aging revolutionary is near death.

The 86-year-old leader dropped off a Venezuelan guest at the Hotel Nacional on Saturday afternoon, then stayed for about half an hour to chat with hotel staff, commercial director Yamila Fuster said.

"Fidel Castro was here yesterday, he brought a guest and spoke to workers and hotel leaders for 30 minutes," Fuster said. She said she was not present but that the news was being released officially by the state-owned establishment.

"They told me he looked very good. He was wearing a checked shirt and a hat," she said.

Fuster would not release the name of the Venezuelan guest, but witnesses at the hotel say former Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua is staying there. A car with Venezuelan diplomatic plates was parked Sunday outside the hotel.

No photos have yet been released, but Fuster said they may be soon.

The Nacional is Cuba's most famous hotel and a common choice of many distinguished guests to the island.

Asked to confirm the news, the Cuban government referred all questions to the hotel. The former president's health is considered a matter of national security in Cuba and few details are ever released.

Castro's health has been the subject of intense speculation in recent days. He has not appeared on television or publically since March, when he was shown greeting visiting Pope Benedict XVI.

Rumours that the former Cuban leader has died or is near death have circulated repeatedly for years, but they gained force after he failed to issue a public statement congratulating Chavez on his October 7 election victory.

A letter attributed to Castro was published Thursday by Cuban state media. In it, he congratulated graduates of a medical school on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.

Two close family members of Castro have also recently denied he is in grave condition.

Juanita Castro, the former leader's sister, told the AP in Miami that reports of her brother's condition are "pure rumours" and "absurd."

Son Alex Castro told a reporter for a weekly Cuban newspaper that his father "is well, going about his daily life."

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