Castro appears in first TV interview since June

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HAVANA, Sep 22 (Reuters) Cuban leader Fidel Castro appeared in his first television interview in more than three months, ending speculation that the ailing revolutionary had died or suffered a major relapse.

Castro, 81, spoke slowly about world affairs, the Cold War and political history, but appeared little changed from the last time he was shown in a Cuban state television interview on June 5.

Dressed in what has become a customary red, blue and white athletic jacket, sitting in an armchair and showing his age through the gray in his beard and bags under his eyes, Castro answered questions about an essay he published this week and attacked the United States, his longtime ideological foe.

''Yesterday the euro was at 1.41 dollars. Oil I think about 84 dollars a barrel,'' Castro said at one point, indicating that he was up to date on current affairs and signaling that the interview was very recent.

He also showed a copy of a book by former US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, which was published this week.

Castro, who took power on the Caribbean island in a 1959 revolution, handed over control to his younger brother, Raul Castro, on July 31, 2006 after emergency intestinal surgery. He has not appeared in public since then.

He has been seen in occasional photographs and videos with visiting foreign leaders and has produced a steady of columns and essays printed by state media over the past six months.

His failure to appear on his birthday on Aug. 13 fueled already rampant rumors in Miami -- the heartland of exiled opposition to his near five-decade-long rule -- that he had had a major health setback, was on his deathbed or had already died.

Television presenter Randy Alonso said the nearly hour-long taped interview that aired yesterday evening took place earlier in the day.

Castro's closest ally, leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, said yesterday his political mentor had undergone several blood transfusions and had almost died.

He did not make clear if he was talking about a recent relapse or if he was recounting complications that Castro suffered after undergoing emergency surgery more than a year ago.

''Fidel is well, clearly he has not finished his recovery.

He has a little problem there but he can live like this another 100 years,'' Chavez told reporters during a visit to Brazil's Amazon city of Manaus.

Senior Cuban officials said yesterday that the Cuban leader continues to recover from his health crisis, but they gave no indication he would return to office.

Vice President Carlos Lage said Castro's recovery was evident from his output of newspaper columns and essays on international issues and political history.

''Fidel is recovering,'' Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque told reporters in Havana. ''It has been a fertile period of work, reading, studying and writing, while keeping in touch with and being involved in the country's main decisions, on which he is consulted.'' REUTERS AK PM0455

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