Castro `honoured' by murder plots

LOOKING BACK over four decades of revolution, Fidel Castro has said the number of attempts on his life still amazes him. "I don't feel worthy of such a high honour," the Cuban leader said during a four-hour speech marking the 46th anniversary of the assault on the Moncada barracks which ignited the Communist uprising.

The Cuban Ministry of the Interior has investigated 637 assassination attempts over 40 years, including the exploding-cigar ruse attempted after the Bay of Pigs invasion. Mr Castro continued to smoke his trademark Havanas after the botched attempt but quit for health reasons in recent years.

Meanwhile, Cuba has withdrawn its request that the United Nations Human Rights Commission back off from criticising the country. Following a Human Rights Watch report that blamed the US trade embargo imposed since 1961 for undue hardship while denouncing Cuban repression of political dissidents and labour activists who support the US, officials called off their plans to file an objection at the UN.

The Castro government defends its rights record, and says that by offering free health care and universal education it holds the basic rights of its citizens in higher regard than less revolutionary countries.

Mr Castro congratulated his friend and fellow Latin American "revolutionary", President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, for his overwhelming victory in an historic weekend poll.

Mr Castro ended his speech to the nation soon after midnight by congratulating Mr Chavez for "one of the most crushing political victories in the history of this hemisphere."

Mr Castro called the Venezuelan parliamentary poll "a motive of encouragement" to Cubans.

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