Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated: Fidel Castro proves he's alive...and gardening

Former leader hits back at claims he had a stroke and had only weeks to live

There are few public figures who have been reportedly on their deathbed as many times as former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and once again the claims would appear to have been exaggerated.

The 86-year-old revolutionary icon, who stepped down as Cuban leader in 2006, has hit back at rumours of his demise commenting that he doesn't even suffer from headaches.

A newspaper article, published in the Cuban state media, features pictures taken by his son - Alex Castro - showing the former leader in a checked shirt and Panama hat, walking around a garden.

"I don't even remember what a headache feels like," Castro claims, adding that he was releasing the photos to show "how dishonest" the rumour mongers have been.

The article was published on the state-run Cubadebate Web site early today.

It is the latest evidence that the former Cuban president is alive and seemingly well after more than a week of intense speculation that he was seriously ill.

Social media sites Twitter and Facebook have recently been alive with rumours of Mr Castro's supposed illness - and reports of his failing health had appeared in newspapers across the world.

Just yesterday, however, a visiting former Venezuelan vice president released a photo of a meeting he said he had the previous day with Castro.

A hotel manager also present for part of the meeting claimed Castro's health was "magnificent."

Castro used an article today to criticise the Western media, who he said are in the pocket of the rich.

In the piece he singled out a Spainish newspaper for publishing comments by a Venezuelan doctor who claimed to have information that Castro had suffered a stroke and had weeks to live.

Castro has been out of the public eye since March, when he received visiting Pope Benedict XVI.

The former communist leader also stopped writing his once constant opinion pieces, called "Reflections," the last of which was published in June.

Former Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua said he met with Castro for five hours and showed The Associated Press photos of the encounter, quashing rumors that the former Cuban leader was on his deathbed or had suffered a massive stroke.

Jaua also confirmed that Castro personally accompanied him to the Hotel Nacional after their encounter Saturday, in which they talked about politics, history, culture and tourism.

"He had the courtesy of bringing me to the hotel," Jaua said Sunday, adding that Castro looked "very well."

In the article today, Castro explains that he chose to stop the opinion pieces of his own accord, not because he was too sick to continue them.

"I stopped publishing Reflections because it was really not my role to take up pages in our press which are needed for other work the country requires," he wrote.

Castro stepped down in 2006 following a severe illness, handing power to his brother Raul.