Raul Castro heads Cuba's May Day procession



Raul Castro heads Cuba`s May Day procession Havana: President Raul Castro on Tuesday led a massive procession marking the annual May Day workers' holiday under a banner vowing to "preserve and perfect" the country's teetering, half-century old revolution.

Nearly 2,000 invited guests also attended the parade which got underway at around 7:30 am local time (1130 GMT) and was attended by tens of thousands of cheering, flagwaving Cubans.

Castro, wearing a white guayabera -- a short-sleeved shirt with a pleated front that is the national attire in this communist country -- presided at the largest of several May Day celebrations planned across the island.

Labor Minister Salvador Valdes in a speech urged Cuba's workers to continue to "work with order, discipline and diligence," as the country navigates a massive economic overhaul.

Cubans are grappling with wide-ranging reform measures aimed at keeping the centrally planned system from collapsing, but which fall far short of instituting a full-scale market-led economy.

Over the past couple of years, the government has put in place reforms intended to open up the private sector, shed a million state jobs and reduce state spending.

The changes also aim to open the way for more Cubans to become private entrepreneurs by setting up their own small businesses -- a huge change in a country where the state historically has employed 90 per cent of its five-million -strong work force.

The reforms began being put in place by Castro shortly after he took power in 2008, succeeding his brother, revolutionary icon Fidel Castro, who had become ill and no longer was able to lead the country.

PTI