Fidel Castro dies aged 90

Fidel Castro, who led his native Cuba for nearly half a century and claimed to have survived more than 600 assassination attempts, has died at the age of 90.

With a shaking voice, his younger brother, Raul Castro, announced on state television that the Communist revolutionary died on Friday night.

World leaders have paid tribute to the revolutionary, who came to power in 1959, with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev praising him for ‘strengthening’ his island nation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin described him as a ‘symbol of an era’, and said he was a ‘distinguished statesman’, and Pope Francis has said Castro’s death is ‘sad news’.

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Nine days of public mourning for the deceased Cuban leader have been announced, when ‘public activities and shows’ will cease, and flags will fly at half mast.

The island’s Council of State says state radio and television ‘will maintain informative, patriotic and historic programming’.

Castro’s ashes will be buried in the historic southeastern city of Santiago on December 4 after a four-day procession through the country.

Raul Castro, who succeeded his brother in 2006, told Cubans in the television announcement: ‘Today, November 25, at 10.29pm, the Commander in Chief of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz, passed away.

‘In compliance with the expressed will of Companion Fidel, his remains will be cremated.’

He concluded his statement by saying: ‘Onward to victory.’

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Castro’s death comes just months after the Communist revolutionary predicted that his time on earth was nearly up.

Among the first world figures to pay tribute to Castro was former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who praised him for ‘strengthening’ his island nation.

Gorbachev said: ‘Fidel stood up and strengthened his country during the harshest American blockade, when there was colossal pressure on him and he still took his country out of this blockade to a path of independent development.’

And current Russian President Vladimir Putin said: ‘The name of this distinguished statesman is rightly considered the symbol of an era in modern world history. Fidel Castro was a sincere and reliable friend of Russia.’

Putin added that Castro has managed to build a ‘free and independent Cuba’ that ‘became an influential member of the international community and served as an inspiration for many countries and peoples’.

Pope Francis has said Castro’s death was ‘sad news’, and in a message to Raul, said:’I express to you my sentiments of grief.’

The Kremlin strongman hailed Castro as a ‘strong and wise person who always looked to the future with confidence’.

‘He embodied the high ideals of a politician, a citizen and a patriot sincerely convinced of the rightness of the cause to which he dedicated his whole life,’ Putin said.

‘His memory will forever remain in the hearts of the citizens of Russia.’

Putin also said that Castro had made a ‘huge personal contribution’ in the establishment and development of the countries’ bilateral relations.

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Castro made his last official appearance before the country’s Communist Party in April, asking party members to help keep his ideas alive long after he died.

‘The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain as proof on this planet that if they are worked at with fervor and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need,’ he told them.

Castro spoke as the government announced that his brother Raul will retain the Cuban Communist Party’s highest post alongside his hardline second-in-command.

It was a resounding message that communism would retain its hold on Cuba, even as its leaders begin to die and age and icy relations with the US continue to thaw.

Castro officially handed power to his brother Raul in 2008, two years after he required emergency surgery for intestinal bleeding.

Raul Castro had been made acting president in 2006.

While his brother Raul was his closest confidant and successor as president, his sister Juana, exiled in south Florida, called Fidel a ‘monster’ to whom she had not spoken in more than four decades.

His eldest son Fidelito, long Castro’s only officially-recognised child, was a nuclear scientist in Cuba.

His eldest daughter Alina Fernandez, born from an affair with a married socialite who remained on the island decades later, attacked her father on exile radio from Miami.

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Within half an hour of his death being announced, the streets of Miami’s Little Havana teemed with Cuban exiles celebrating the 90-year-old’s demise.

‘Cuba si! Castro no!’ they chanted, while others screamed ‘Cuba libre!’

Thousands of Cubans fled the island to the United States after Castro took power in 1959.

Some were loyalists of Fulgencio Batista, the president prior to Castro, while others left with the hope they would be able to return soon, after Castro was toppled. He never was.

US Congress representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami, said in a statement: ‘A tyrant is dead and a new beginning can dawn on the last remaining communist bastion of the Western Hemisphere.’

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