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Castro skips birthday party, saying he is not well enough

Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro told hundreds of admirers who traveled here for his 80th birthday party that he was not well enough to meet with them on Tuesday.

In a written message read at the launch of his five-day birthday bash, Castro said his doctors told him he was not in condition to attend the kickoff Tuesday night at Havana's Karl Marx Theater.

"I was not yet in condition, according to the doctors, to face such a colossal encounter," said the note read at the gathering and broadcast live on state television.

The crowd responded by giving Castro a standing ovation.

The Cuban leader has been seen by the public only in photos and videos since his July 31 announcement that he was temporarily ceding power to his brother, 75-year-old Defense Minister Raul Castro, while he recovered from surgery for intestinal bleeding. Details of his ailment and his medical treatment are state secrets.

U.S. government officials said this month there is still some mystery about Castro's diagnosis, his treatment and how he is responding. But the officials believe he has terminal cancer of the stomach, colon or pancreas.

More than 1,300 politicians, artists and intellectuals from around the globe were expected to pay homage to the man who governed the communist-run island for 47 years.

The festivities were originally scheduled around Castro's actual birthday on Aug. 13. After falling ill, Castro asked to postpone them to Dec. 2.