Cuban minister says Castro not dying

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HAVANA, Sep 12 (Reuters) Cuban leader Fidel Castro is not at death's door and rumors in Miami of his demise are wishful thinking, Cuban Culture Minister Abel Prieto said today.

Prieto said he had no inside information on Castro's medical condition, but deduced from the 81-year-old leader's regular essays and columns that he is not dying.

''Nobody who was agonizing could be doing these analyses and reflections about day-to-day reality,'' he told reporters. ''He is aware of everything that happens, he is reading the wires, he is analyzing and evaluating.'' Castro has not appeared in public for more than a year since surgery for an intestinal disorder forced him to hand over power to his brother Raul Castro, relinquishing control for the first time since his 1959 revolution. Details of Castro's health have not leaked from his water-tight inner circle.

Cubans last saw him in a pre-taped television interview broadcast on June 5 in which he appeared to be stronger.

Since March, Castro has reasserted his presence in Cuba through newspaper columns also read out fully on television.

In a 4,256-word essay published by the Communist Party daily Granma today, Castro claimed the US government had misinformed Americans and the world about 9/11, echoing conspiracy theories about the terror attacks six years ago.

His prolonged absence has fueled death rumors in Miami, a bastion of anti-Castro sentiment among the large Cuban emigre community which eagerly awaits the demise of a man they see as a tyrant who turned Cuba into a communist state.

''I think they are people who confound their wishes with reality, they are obsessed with this,'' Prieto said.

Cuban officials say Castro, who underwent a series of intestinal operations, is recovering. But they no longer insist that he will resume office.

Prieto, Cuba's only long-haired minister and a member of the Communist Party's powerful executive Politburo, said he thought Castro continues ''recovering favorably.'' He said he was convinced that an ''overwhelming majority'' of Cubans want Castro to continue leading the country as president of the Council of State.

The National Assembly must elect the 31-member Council of State at the start of its next session in March. Any changes to its leadership would take place at that time.

Reuters SZ VP0047

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