TV footage of Castro shows improvement in his health

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The Independent US

A new video shown on Cuban television of Fidel Castro with the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during a surprise visit to Havana this week shows him to be in what seems to be an improved state of health, casting doubt on rumours that he is at death's door.

The clip was released exactly six months after the Cuban leader astonished Cuba and the rest of the world by revealing that he had undergone majorsurgery and was temporarily ceding power to his brother, Raoul.

Shown on the political programme Mesa Redonda (Round Table) on Tuesday evening, the 10-minute video was apparently taken at a two-hour meeting on Monday. Speaking about his illness, he at one point says: "This also is far from being a lost battle."

It is the first time Cubans have seen video pictures of him since 28 October, when he looked gaunt and frail. While he seems generally alert and has gained weight, there are times when his speech seems to slur.

President Castro is seen reading a booklet that was dated last Saturday and discussing an article from a newspaper in Argentina, also published last week.

Last month, a report in the Spanish newspaper El Pais said he was in a "grave condition" after three botched operations. It quoted anonymous sources at a Madrid hospital where a surgeon who saw President Castro in December works.

This week the city of Miami, home to more than one million Cuban exiles, announced plans to celebrate the Cuban leader's passing when it finally came.