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Fidel Castro leaves Havana for first time since illness

HAVANA — Fidel Castro made his first reported appearance outside Havana on Saturday since a health crisis forced him from power in 2006, the strongest indication yet he is reclaiming a major public persona after years out of the spotlight.

The gray-bearded, 83-year-old wore an olive-green shirt at a ceremony in Artemisa, 40 miles west of Cuba's capital, honoring fallen fighters in his revolution. Though frail, Castro looked a bit like his old self in video released on state television and in photos posted on the government website Cubadebate.

It was the latest in a slew of public appearances in recent weeks, but was of note because it marked Castro's first confirmed trip outside Havana since undergoing intestinal surgery, and because he wore an olive green button-down shirt.

Though devoid of stars and insignia, the shirt was reminiscent of the military uniform that was Castro's trademark for nearly a half century and differed sharply from the tracksuits he had on in government photos and videos released as he recuperated from his undisclosed illness in a secret location.

Saturday's posting on Cubadebate also made a point of calling Castro "commander in chief," a title he has largely shunned since he ceded power to his younger brother Raul — first temporarily in July 2006, then permanently in February 2008.

Fidel Castro's appearance outside Havana came two days before Revolution Day — the top official holiday on communist Cuba's calendar — marking the July 26, 1953, attack on the Moncada army barracks in the eastern city of Santiago, and a smaller military outpost in the nearby Bayamo.

The operation failed spectacularly with nearly all involved killed or imprisoned, but Cubans consider it the beginning of the revolution that culminated with dictator Fulgencio Batista's ouster on New Year's Day 1959.

Many of the Moncada attackers hailed from Artemisa, and Castro visited a local museum in their honor Saturday.

He laid a wreath at a mausoleum for the rebels and also greeted a small group of Cubans who rushed to the site to see him as word spread Castro was in town.

Fidel Castro leaves Havana for first time since illness 07/24/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 24, 2010 9:56pm]
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