Sun, May 16, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Castro leads march against new US moves to oust him

HARSH WORDS The veteran Cuban leader said US President George W. Bush had no moral standing, as well as implying he was a coward

AFP , HAVANA

Protesters hold a poster portraying President Bush as Hitler and a Nazi swastika during demonstration Friday, in front of the US Interests Section building in Havana, Cuba. The rally was organized to protest against new US measures aimed at squeezing the island's economy and pushing out Castro. The banner reads: Fascist Bush -- No to aggression.

PHOTO: AP

Cuban President Fidel Castro on Friday led a massive protest march against new US moves aimed at speeding the end of his communist rule.

He lashed out at US President George W. Bush as an illegitimate leader and said he would die fighting if the US invaded.

Addressing Bush, Castro said if he invades Cuba, "I am just sorry I would not be able to see your face, because in that case you would be thousands of miles away and I will be front and center to die fighting in defense of my country.

"Since you have decided our fate is sealed, it is my pleasure to bid farewell as did the Roman gladiators: Hail, Caesar, we who are about to die salute you.

"This people can be exterminated -- take this into account -- wiped off the face of the earth, but never subjugated nor defeated," warned the 77-year-old grey-bearded Castro, clad in his habitual drab green military fatigues.

He said everything written about human rights in his world, "and that of your allies who share in the looting of the planet, is a colossal lie."

Cuba has recently come under increasing criticism for its human rights record, particularly its treatment of dissidents and political prisoners, from the United States and the European Union.

"You have no moral standing nor any right whatsoever to speak of freedom, democracy and human rights when you boast enough power to destroy mankind and with it, you are trying to impose a global tyranny ... and carry out wars of conquest," Castro said.

He added the US president had "turned global politics into a genuine insane asylum."

The veteran Cuba leader, in power for 45 years, also criticized the US for the scandal over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US occupying forces, saying "the incredible torture applied to prisoners in Iraq has left the world dumbfounded."

Last week, Bush endorsed measures to tighten the US embargo against Cuba by restricting Cuban-Americans' cash remittances to relatives on the island and limiting family visits between the US and Cuba to one every three years.

The remittances are a pillar of the Cuban economy, worth some 1.2 billion dollars a year.

The plan also involves the use of US military aircraft to broadcast pro-democracy radio and television programs into Cuba, meant to foil Cuba's jamming of the US signal.

However, a US business alliance consisting of the National Foreign Trade Council, USA Engage and the Association of Travel Related Industry Professionals said Bush's policy would cause "economic hardship to the US companies engaged in lawful travel services."

The Cuban authorities said more than one million demonstrators marched in one of the biggest rally here in recent years. The government gave workers in the capital and surrounding areas a day off work Friday "to facilitate participation."

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