Livingstone lavishes praise on Cuba during visit

Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, has launched a tirade against President George Bush and the "evil" war in Iraq.

The Mayor of London also accused President Bush of being elected in a " judicial coup d'état" and attacked the White House for pursuing "economic war" against the Communist state of Cuba.

He also paid tribute to the health services and education provided by the Cuban President, Fidel Castro.

Mr Livingstone was speaking at the weekend during a visit to Cuba on the first leg of a Latin American tour. He called Mr Castro's Communist revolution "one of the high points of the 20th century" and praised Mr Castro while on a trip to see a cricket match on the island.

He said: "What's amazing here is you've got a country that's suffered an illegal economic blockade by the United States for almost half a century and yet it's been able to give its people the best standard of health care, brilliant education. To do this in the teeth of an almost economic war I think is a tribute to Fidel Castro and his government."

The United States has maintained a trade embargo against Cuba since 1962 and has pushed for free elections in the country.

But Mr Livingstone criticised the 2000 American presidential election that propelled Mr Bush to power, despite his getting fewer votes than the Democrat Al Gore. The mayor said: "Given the problems there where you had a judicial coup d'état imposing a candidate whom the American people rejected, who then launched an evil war, I have to say I'm not sure the Americans should cast the first stone on these things."

He added: "And though Cuba's only got a fifth of the population of Britain, it gets as many medals in the Olympics as we do. So clearly they're doing something right here about engaging their young people in sport, and that's what I'm really interested in finding out about."

Michael Moore, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said: " The Mayor of London has rather simplistic views of the state of affairs in Cuba.

"There is no doubt that the counter-productive measure imposed by the US administration should end, but there also needs to be more constructive engagement. Once again the people of London will be surprised that their Mayor finds time to interfere in foreign policy matters when his focus should be on the affairs of London."

Angie Bray, leader of the Conservative group on the London Assembly, described his comments as "an anti-American rant". She said: " We all have our heroes. If Ken Livingstone wants to chase them across the globe that is fine, but he should be doing it in his own time with his own money."

Mr Livingstone is known for his outspoken style. Last year he faced suspension after likening a Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard. He has described President Bush as "the most corrupt American president since Harding in the Twenties".

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