Fidel Castro pokes fun at George W Bush

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HAVANA, Oct 28 (Reuters) Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro poked fun at President George W Bush today for proclaiming ''Long Live Free Cuba,'' likening it to Spain's king saying the same during his colonial rule over the island.

Bush said the transfer of power from the ailing Fidel Castro to his brother Raul as of July 2006 was unacceptable, proclaiming liberty was more important than stability and ending his comments in the speech to the US State Department on Wednesday with ''Viva Cuba Libre.'' The slogan was first used by Cuban independence fighters, known as Mambisis, in 1868 as they began their decades-long war against Spain's colonial rule. It was also the battle cry of Fidel Castro's guerrilla fighters in the late 1950s.

Raul Castro often ends speeches with the slogan instead of Fidel Castro's ''Motherland or Death.'' ''I never imagined I would hear the words coming from the mouth of a US president 139 years later,'' Castro said in an essay titled ''Bush, Mambi?'' carried by the official media.

''It's as if a king in those times, or his governor, proclaimed 'Viva Cuba Libre,''' Castro said.

Castro, 81, has not appeared in public since undergoing a series of abdominal surgeries and has looked frail in occasional video clips and pictures, although he writes regularly and is said to participate in government decisions.

Bush said on Wednesday he would maintain sanctions against Cuba and called on the Cuban people, military and police to join efforts to open Cuba to multi-party democracy.

Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque accused Bush of encouraging a violent uprising against Cuba's Communist government.

Castro compared the Mambisis, who freed their slaves, with President Abraham Lincoln's abolition of slavery, then quoted Lincoln's famous words in reference to the Bush speech.

''You can fool some of the people all of the time or all of the people part of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time,'' Castro said.

Cuba today marked the 48th anniversary of the death of revolutionary hero Camilo Cienfuegos, who disappeared in a plane crash, and earlier this month that of Guerrilla fighter Ernesto Che Guevara.

''For what their names symbolise, we respond to the false Mambi: Viva Lincoln! Viva Che! Viva Camilo!'' Castro concluded.

REUTERS GT RAI2034

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