Fidel Castro meets with Venezuelan ally Chavez

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HAVANA, Oct 14 (Reuters) Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who has not appeared in public since July last year, met for more than four hours with his ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Cuban state television said.

Chavez, on his third visit to Cuba this year, arrived in Havana early yesterday and will broadcast his weekly radio and television show from the mausoleum where the remains of guerrilla fighter Ernesto ''Che'' Guevara are entombed in the central Cuban city of Santa Clara.

Castro, who looked frail in pictures published last month, is not expected to appear on the show in person. No images of his meeting with Chavez were released yesterday.

''The two revolutionary leaders discussed the history of our nations, the solid and growing bilateral relations, the situation in Latin America and the most serious problems facing humanity,'' a statement read out on Cuban television said.

The 81-year-old Cuban leader handed over power to his brother Raul Castro 14 1/2 months ago after emergency intestinal surgery for an undisclosed illness.

His long absence has fueled rumors about his declining health and uncertainty over the political future of the Western Hemisphere's only communist-run state after his death.

In photographs of a meeting with Angolan President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos released on September 22, Castro looked thin, but appeared standing, wearing a track suit top over pajamas.

Chavez considers Castro his political mentor and has succeeded the Cuban leader as the main opponent of the United States in Latin America.

His left-wing government has provided Cuba with crucial economic support and oil supplies.

Chavez chose to broadcast his today programme from Santa Clara in tribute to the Argentine-born Guevara, who helped Castro seize power in Cuba's 1959 revolution and was captured and executed in Bolivia 40 years ago.

REUTERS DKS AS0809

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