September 5, 2006

Pictures show thinner Castro

HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters) -- Cuban leader Fidel Castro said the worst is over and he is recovering well from intestinal surgery one month ago despite losing 41 lbs (18.6 kg), a statement published on Tuesday said.

But the left-wing firebrand said a full recovery from his undisclosed illness will take a long time.

Castro, 80, said the last of his stitches was removed after 34 days of convalescence since his operation to stop intestinal surgery that forced him to turn over power to his younger brother.

"One can say that the most critical moment is behind us. Today I am recovering at a satisfactory pace," he said in a message to the Cuban people published by the Communist Party newspaper Granma's Web site, with photographs of him reading in a rocking chair.

A thinner Castro appeared in pajamas and slippers sitting in a rocking chair in what looked like a hospital room in photographs on Granma's site.

Castro, in power since a 1959 revolution, stunned Cuba on July 31 when he ceded the presidency and leadership of the government temporarily to his brother Raul Castro after undergoing emergency surgery.

Rumors that he had died swirled until photographs and video images of a frail and bedridden Castro were released on his birthday August 13.

Castro said he will be receiving foreign dignitaries in the coming days, a reference to next week's summit of the Nonaligned Movement of 116 developing nations in Havana. Many nations from Africa, Asia and Latin America will be represented.

The Cuban leader is not expected to be strong enough to host the event, which some 50 heads of state are due to attend. But a brief appearance has not been ruled out.

The Cuban government has denied reports that Castro suffered from stomach cancer. His illness is a state secret to avoid helping his enemies in the United States, officials say.

Castro asked the country to understand the need to withhold information about his health.

"We must all equally understand that, realistically, a full recovery will take a long time, like it or not," he said.

"At this time I am in no hurry and no-one should be in a hurry. The country is going well and advances," he said.

Copyright 2006 Reuters.