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Castro says he putting on weight again

Written by: Staff
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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, Sep 14 (Reuters) Cuban President Fidel Castro says he has started putting on weight again, in his first interview since the 80-year-old communist leader fell ill and adding to growing evidence he is recovering from life-threatening surgery.

''I lost 41 pounds, but I'm putting weight back on -- already almost half of what I lost,'' the leftist firebrand told Argentine journalist, lawmaker and friend Miguel Bonasso.

''You have to do things one step at a time. You must remember that the machine being repaired is 80 years old,'' Castro joked, regarding the pace of his recovery.

The interview with leftist Argentine newspaper Pagina 12 showed that Castro was well enough to get out of bed to greet his visitor, but gave no indication whether he would appear at the summit of Non-Aligned developing nations under way in Havana.

Photographs of the interview showed a gaunt-looking Castro in a dressing gown and pajamas chatting with Bonasso at a table about a book of 100 hours of interviews the Cuban leader has been editing during his illness.

''I wanted to finish editing it because I did not know how much time I had left,'' he told Bonasso.

Castro has not appeared in public since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery in late July for an undisclosed illness that forced him to hand over power temporarily to his brother Raul Castro for the first time in 47 years.

In messages to the Cuban people, Castro has said the worst of his health crisis is over but that his recovery will take a long time. Cuban officials have denied that he has stomach cancer.

Top aides said Castro was no longer lounging in bed and was back on the telephone giving orders. They said he might appear at the summit of 116 nations if doctors permit.

''I can still talk pretty loudly if I want to,'' Castro was quoted as saying by the Argentine daily.

Castro said he was optimistic that Venezuela, which is led by his leftist ally Hugo Chavez, could secure a nonpermanent seat at the UN Security Council. ''They're not going to be able to block its entry,'' he said.

Venezuelan diplomats have used the 116-nation summit to canvass for votes against the US-backed candidate Guatemala.

Castro said Chavez, who has followed in the Cuban leader's footsteps to become Washington's fiercest critic in the region, had stopped the plunder of Venezuela's oil wealth and was putting it to good use in social programs.

''Chavez has been building an indestructible model. He doesn't represent an extreme form of socialism, but a realistic one,'' Castro added.

REUTERS LL BST2203

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