Fidel Castro leads first mass rally in four years

Fidel warned about threat of nuclear war should the US or Israel attack Iran.

Last Updated: Sep 04, 2010, 09:25 AM IST

Havana: Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro on Friday completed a return to public life, leading his first mass rally since an illness forced him from the presidency four years ago.

Castro, 84, wearing his trademark olive green uniform -- but without any military insignias -- addressed thousands of students and others at the University of Havana, where he warned about the threat of nuclear war should the United States or Israel attack Iran.

For years after intestinal surgery that forced him to hand power to his younger brother Raul in 2006, Fidel Castro hardly made so much as a public appearance.

But in recent weeks he has emerged from seclusion, making at least eight public appearances in three weeks, culminating August 08 with an address before the country`s National Assembly -- his first in four years.

Of late, Castro`s attentions have shifted from Cuba`s domestic scene and the ongoing tensions between the Communist isle and the United States.

Instead, the aging revolutionary has begun to warn of a "nuclear holocaust" and now calls for a world free of weapons of mass destruction.

Though clearly stronger than in the period after his surgery, when he was at first to frail to walk, Castro organised the Friday rally in the early morning, "before the sun is too hot”, he said.

The demonstration, broadcast live on national television, came a few days before Cuban students return to university.

Castro said he had "started to become aware of our time and our duty" while studying law in the late 1940s.

"It was at that age that I discovered my true destiny," said Castro, the father of Cuba`s 1959 revolution, adding that he "never thought" he would be able to lead another rally at the university because of his health problems.

His Friday address again raised the spectre of nuclear war, calling for "the disappearance of nuclear weapons”, but Castro also sounded the alarm over climate change, which he said "threatens human existence”.

The former guerrilla, who has retained the key post of first secretary of Cuba`s Communist Party, thanked the students for their "moral support in this battle for peace”.

"I urge you not to give up fighting in this direction because... it is possible to succeed, that human life will be saved," he told the students, many draped in the Cuban flag, who chanted Castro`s name at several points.

Student leaders participating in the rally took to the stage to demand that US President Barack Obama "not pull the trigger" and start a conflict with Iran.

The 84-year-old has dedicated his recent appearances to warning about the danger of a "nuclear holocaust," with his speeches and writing notably avoiding any mention of Cuba`s serious economic crisis.

On August 01, Raul Castro expanded opportunities for self-employment ahead of looming government plans to slash as many as one million jobs -- 20 percent of communist Cuba`s work force -- from state payrolls.

The economy, 95 percent of which is currently in state hands, does not have the ability to absorb such vast numbers of jobless. Raul Castro`s move aims to try to reduce the socioeconomic fallout, but an uphill battle is expected.

In Old Havana, Fidel Castro`s return to form left some cold.

"I just wish I could go to Spain and earn a living. I have to respect our Commander, who continues to fight, but for me there is no future here," said one 34-year-old Cuban, who declined to be identified.

Bureau Report