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Castro quits Cuban presidency

Havana, February 19, 2008

Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro said on Tuesday that he will not return to lead the country as president or commander-in-chief, retiring as head of state 49 years after he seized power in an armed revolution.

Castro, 81, who has not appeared in public for almost 19 months after undergoing stomach surgery, said in a message to the communist nation that he would not seek a new presidential term when the National Assembly meets on February 24.

"To my dear compatriots, who gave me the immense honor in recent days of electing me a member of parliament I communicate to you that I will not aspire to or accept - I repeat not aspire to or accept - the positions of President of Council of State and Commander in Chief," Castro said in the statement published on the Web site of the Communist Party's Granma newspaper.

The National Assembly or legislature is expected to nominate his brother and designated successor Raul Castro, 76, as president. Raul Castro has been running the country since emergency surgery to stop intestinal bleeding forced Castro to delegate power on July 31, 2006.

Cubans on the empty streets of Havana were not surprised by his retirement.

"Everyone knew for a while that he would not come back. The people got used to his absence," said Roberto, a self-employed Cuban who did not want to be fully named.-Reuters




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