Fri, Aug 04, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Castro remains out of view as Cuba tightens security

ON ALERT Police and Communist Party activists were mobilized as the president's absence added to speculation that he was extremely ill, or even dead

AFP , HAVANA

Cuban authorities on Wednesday tightened security in the Caribbean nation gripped by uncertainty with President Fidel Castro and his stand-in, Raul Castro, still out of view two days after their unprecedented handover of power.

A slight but perceptible mobilization of police in Havana's streets was accompanied by a tightening of security at the country's exit points, along with a mobilization of Communist Party activists and rapid response brigades, as Cubans pondered the fate of their leader of nearly five decades after he underwent gastrointestinal surgery.

A top official said on Wednesday that Fidel Castro, 79, remained "very alert" following his operation, and continued to closely follow domestic and international affairs.

But neither he nor his brother Raul, whom he named as his temporary replacement on Monday, appeared in public, stoking concerns over the country's future.

National Assembly Speaker Ricardo Alarcon told US-based Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now show that he had spoken on Monday and Tuesday with Fidel.

"Of course, he is forced to have a period of rest. He underwent complicated surgery," said Alarcon. "But he is very alive and very alert as always, very interested in what's going on around him and around the world," he said.

Castro's absence from public view has fueled speculation that he might be gravely ill, if not already dead.

Since assuming his brother's positions on Monday as first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, commander in chief and president of the government, Raul Castro, 75, has also not addressed or appeared to the Cuban people.

Added security measures were barely visible in the country, compared to huge military mobilizations during crises in the 1960s and 1970s, but residents said that security-related groups were on alert.

In Miami, US lawmakers of Cuban American descent who met with officials on Wednesday said that the White House would be making important announcements soon, including changes in immigration policy regarding Cuba.

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