Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Castro in uniform, walking, eating well


Tue Sep 19, 2006 1:26 AM BST

HAVANA (Reuters) - Convalescing Cuban leader Fidel Castro is trying on his uniform, taking short walks in his hospital room to loosen up his numb limbs and has a healthy appetite, visiting friends said on Monday.

"I am just returning from seeing him in uniform ... it really struck me, when I saw him standing in his uniform I stopped dead in my tracks and said: 'Fidel, what's this?'" Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said in a interview aired on Cuban state television on Monday, but taped on the weekend.

Chavez was one of a number of dignitaries and friends who met with Castro during a nonaligned movement summit last week.

He said Castro had regained his "thundering voice" and people should prepare for him coming back into public soon.

Castro has not appeared in public since emergency surgery to stop intestinal bleeding in late July forced him to hand over power temporarily to his brother and designated heir Raul Castro for the first time since their 1959 revolution.

"We walked about the room," Argentine lawmaker and journalist Miguel Bonasso said in an article published by Cuba's ruling Communist Party newspaper Granma.

"I have to get rid of the numbness," he said to Bonasso. Photographs showed the octogenarian Castro sitting in a rocking chair in pyjamas and dressing gown, with his shoes on.

Castro, a self-declared news junkie, is following current affairs closely and has an aide reading wire dispatches to him, Bonasso said.

The leftist firebrand said he was feeling "terribly hungry" lately. "I eat everything," he said, according to Bonasso.

Doctors ordered Castro not to appear at the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement that gathered leaders from 56 developing nations in Havana last week.

The uncharismatic and less articulate Raul Castro chaired the summit of 118 countries that backed Iran's disputed nuclear energy program and called for reform of the United Nations to wrest control from world powers and give the Third World a bigger say.

Castro received the leaders of Iran, India, Malaysia, Algeria, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, as well as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his hospital room.

Castro's undisclosed illness was blamed on overwork. Cuban officials denied he has stomach cancer.

Castro lost 41 pounds (18 kg) after surgery, but has recovered half the weight loss, Chavez said after seeing him on Thursday.

Whether the "indefatigable" Castro will return to govern Cuba as before or settle into the role of strategist remains to be seen, Bonasso wrote. He said it was too difficult a question to even put to Castro.

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