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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 December 2006, 20:16 GMT
Raul Castro urges transport plan
By Stephen Gibbs
BBC News, Havana

Raul Castro
Raul Castro is believed to be open to economic reform
Cuba's acting President Raul Castro has said Cuba's transportation system is practically on the point of collapse.

Speaking to members of the National Assembly, he also said there was "no excuse" for many of the problems the communist-led island faces.

The comments, excerpts of which have been published in the Cuban state media, are being seen as a marked change of style from his brother Fidel.

The veteran leader has not been seen in public since having surgery in July.

He did not attend the closed-door National Assembly meeting, amid continued speculation over the state of his health.

Media debate

"Tell it as it is," is what Raul Castro is reported to have urged assembly members to do.

Almost five months into his acting presidency, the head of the Cuban army is stamping his own style on the way this country is run.

Image of President Fidel Castro on Cuban TV (28 October 2006)
Mr Castro seemed frail during his last TV appearance in October
The assembly meeting, which in the past has been dominated by lengthy, sometimes meandering speeches by Fidel Castro, wrapped up in a single day.

Raul Castro said the revolution was tired of justifications. He said it was "inexplicable" how bureaucracy was delaying payments to farmers, and warned that simply buying thousands of new buses was no solution to Cuba's transportation problems.

The younger Castro is also reported to have urged more debate and self criticism in the media, which is entirely state run and has tended to take a congratulatory tone.

Raul Castro is believed to be more open to the idea of economic reform than his elder brother, but it is not yet clear whether he might be heading down that path.

Nor is it known what is the current prognosis for Fidel Castro, who is suffering from an unspecified gastric illness, and has been out of public view for almost five months.

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