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Ailing Cuban leader looks better in new video

Written by: Staff
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HAVANA, Sept 2 (Reuters) Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro, looking well on the mend, was shown on television on Friday meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez after temporarily ceding power a month ago to undergo intestinal surgery.

The video from the communist-ruled island appeared aimed at putting to rest rumors Castro was near death and out of public life for good after ruling the Caribbean island for more than 47 years.

The seven-minute clip first showed a smiling Castro in bed receiving Chavez and two little girls on Friday morning.

''Brother,'' Castro said to Chavez while grinning ear to ear after a hug. ''This is wonderful, a million thanks (for coming).'' The clip then showed the two men sitting at a table in what appeared to be a hospital room having a lively discussion about international affairs.

Castro, in red pajamas, appeared much stronger than when he was seen in a video on Aug 13, when Chavez visited him to celebrate his 80th birthday. Then, a frail-looking Castro, was shown in bed and covered with a blanket.

The latest clip ended with both men giving voice to an old revolutionary slogan, exclaiming: ''On to victory always, we will win.'' Castro temporarily handed over power to his younger brother and Defense Minister Raul Castro on July 31 to undergo surgery for intestinal bleeding.

He has not been seen in public since the surgery, and Cuba's government has not said what exactly ails the veteran revolutionary.

Acting president Raul Castro has remained largely out of public view.

The secrecy has created a great deal of speculation inside and outside the country that a succession from Castro's rule has taken place or is under way.

Raul Castro was seen only briefly in the video on Friday receiving Chavez at the airport.

CASTRO'S HEIR? ''This morning we talked for two hours. We analyzed the international situation with Raul Castro,'' said Chavez, a self-described revolutionary at odds with Washington, upon his return to Caracas.

The firebrand Venezuelan leader said he made a brief stop in Cuba after visiting China, Syria and Angola, where he signed cooperation deals he says are aimed at countering US influence.

Castro has repeatedly said he sees Chavez as the heir to his revolutionary legacy in the region.

Cuban state television said Chavez also met on his visit on Friday with Raul Castro and ''other (Communist) Party and government leaders.'' Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter, has helped Cuba resist a US embargo by supplying Castro with 90,000 barrels per day of petroleum on preferential terms and paying for thousands of Cuban doctors and other professionals working in Venezuela.

REUTERS PDM ND0908

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