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Cuba marks revolution's anniversary

Fidel Castro returned to the square where he first appeared as Cuba's leader 40 years ago, telling hundreds of supporters on New Year's Day that it "seems unreal" to be delivering a speech in the place where the revolution first triumphed.

Wearing his trademark olive-green military uniform in Santiago's city hall, Castro described the moment of victory on Jan. 1, 1959.

"I felt for a moment a strange sense of emptiness" to leave behind the "hard, pure and healthy" life of a guerrilla to take over the leadership of Cuba, he said.

"The people I lead are not the same people of that January first," Castro said, noting that 7-million of 11-million Cubans were born after the revolution.

He said he was "not exactly the same man of that day, either."

However, Castro said he still thinks the same way and predicted the capitalist system would fall. Referring to financial speculators, he said "they have turned the planet into a giant casino."

Banners celebrating the anniversary were strung over Santiago's narrow streets, and the city's small plaza was lit by floodlights and equipped with giant projection screens, which showed footage of Castro during the revolution and after its victory.

Tourists leaned out of hotel balconies to watch the gathering crowds. Communist party officials and veterans of the 1959 revolution took their seats in the tree-shaded plaza, and a television truck was parked nearby to broadcast the event live.

It was far more orderly than the joyous confusion that night on Jan. 1, 1959, when the rebel leader arrived in the eastern Cuban city where he had spent much of his youth.

Dictator Fulgencio Batista had fled Cuba early in the morning. Castro devoted much of his 1959 speech to warnings against a military takeover he worried would cheat his rebels of triumph.

That threat quickly collapsed and Castro began a triumphant weeklong journey across a Cuba that celebrated him for toppling the Batista regime.