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Castro attendance uncertain at summit in Cuba

Written by: Staff

HAVANA, Sep 10: Leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement of 116 developing nations will meet in Cuba this week for a summit that will gather some of the United States' fiercest critics just 145 km offshore.

But Washington's longest-lasting ideological foe, Cuban leader Fidel Castro, may not be well enough to attend.

Cuban officials today said they did not know if Castro, who is recovering from surgery in July, would be able to do more than receive in private some of the 50 leaders expected in Havana.

Cuban officials said they had mistakenly listed Castro as hosting a dinner for heads of delegations in a press coverage schedule issued earlier.

''I can confirm that he will receive some of the foreign dignitaries and almost certainly (U.N. Secretary-General) Kofi Annan,'' Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said.

''We cannot say yet whether he will be physically present in the work of the summit.'' Emergency intestinal surgery in July for an undisclosed illness forced Castro, 80, to turn over power to his younger brother, Raul, and left him 18 kilograms thinner.

His main leftist ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, is seen as the political heir who will take up Castro's role of assailing Western capitalism in the name of the world's poor.

''Chavez may well become the star of the show,'' said Riordan Roett, director of Western Hemisphere Studies at the School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. ''He will certainly use it as an anti-American platform.

''Part of the color, though, will be lost if Fidel can't give one of his three- to four-hour rousing speeches,'' Roett said.

The presidents of Iran and Syria, countries the Bush administration sees as supporters of terrorism, are expected in Havana, as well as a high-ranking delegation from North Korea, which Bush has included in an ''axis of evil.'' The Non-Aligned Movement, which groups almost two-thirds of the member states of the United Nations, is expected to endorse Iran's nuclear energy program after Tehran ignored an August 31 U.N.

Security Council deadline to stop enriching uranium, a process that could yield atomic bombs.

Perez Roque said the summit was not organised to attack the United States but developing countries would denounce the world's only superpower for its policy of preventive attacks and regime change, the illegal occupation of other countries and the existence of secret prisons around the world.


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