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Mourning in Cuba after death of Castro

dpadpa 26/11/2016

Revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, who ruled Cuba for 47 years, will be cremated before nine days of national mourning.

World leaders as well as Cubans at home and abroad have reacted with sadness and celebration to the death of revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.

Castro, who ruled Cuba for 47 years and saw 10 United States presidents come and go before stepping down in 2006, was to be cremated later on Saturday, followed by nine days of national mourning.

Castro's death late on Friday at the age of 90 was announced on state television by his brother and successor as president, Raul Castro, just before midnight.

When the news was made public, restaurants started to close their doors and Cubans rushed home to share the historic moment with their loved ones.

"Fidel is part of our lives. I am as old as the revolution and, although everyone dies at some point we never thought his day might come," saleswoman Yanela told dpa at a Havana market.

On Havana's iconic seaside esplanade, the Malecon, children played baseball as they do every Saturday. However, all entertainment was cancelled until the end of the official mourning period and flags in public buildings were at half-mast.

His funeral will take place on December 4 in Cuba's second city of Santiago.

Supporters say Castro gave Cuba back to the people by overthrowing the regime of Fulgencio Batista in 1959 and establishing a communist state.

"We will mourn him for 100 years," hospital worker Digna Maritza, 55, told dpa in the early hours of Saturday at a Havana cafe.

"For me Fidel means everything. He made a revolution for the poor, it is because of him that we, the poor, have everything," said her friend Marvelys, 42.

His many detractors, however, say he violently suppressed dissent among his own people during a rule marked by the United States' disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world closer than ever to nuclear warfare.

"We know that this moment fills Cubans ... with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation," US President Barack Obama said in a statement.

Obama added that his government had "worked hard" on a rapprochement with Cuba, and that Cubans now looking to the future "have a friend and partner in the United States of America."

Obama's successor Donald Trump said in contrast that Castro's legacy "is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights."

Trump had called during the presidential race for a rolling back of warming US relations unless Havana moves to end political repression.

"While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve," Trump said.

Pope Francis - credited with contributing to the thaw in relations between Cuba and the US - offered his condolences to President Raul Castro, his family and the people of "beloved Cuba."

In Miami, which has the largest Cuban exile community in the US, hundreds of people took to the streets to celebrate Castro's death.

Left-wing Latin American leaders paid tribute, with Bolivian President Evo Morales vowing never to forget Castro's "resistance to the imperialist model and the capitalist model."

According to his official biography, Castro was born in Biran in eastern Cuba on August 13, 1926. As a young lawyer, he took up the fight against the Batista regime.

After several years in exile, he landed in Cuba with a small army of guerillas in 1956. A talented military tactician, Castro and his fellow revolutionaries managed to overthrow the Batista regime to widespread popular support in 1959.

Two years later, Castro declared his revolution to have been Marxist in nature and aligned his country with the Soviet Union.

This - as well as an agricultural reform and nationalisation program - put him on a collision course with Washington, which imposed a trade embargo that would last decades.

Castro bowed out of frontline politics in July 2006 for health reasons, handing the reins of power over to his brother Raul, initially only provisionally and then on a permanent basis.

Castro's subsequent health had been a closely guarded secret in Cuba. There have been no details released on the cause of death.

There is set to be a public wake on Monday and Tuesday in Havana's Jose Marti memorial, and then a formal mass farewell on Tuesday in the city's Revolution Square.

A parade around the country will follow over four days, covering 900km from the Cuban capital to Santiago, with a second mass rally in Santiago on Saturday.

Cuban authorities said the burial ceremony is set to take place at on December 4, at Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago.

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