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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 January 2007, 07:22 GMT
Chavez admits Castro gravely ill
Fidel Castro. Picture issued 28 October 2006.
Mr Castro handed over his executive powers in July 2006
Cuban leader Fidel Castro is battling to save his life, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said.

Mr Chavez, a close friend of Cuba's left-wing leader, said he hoped Mr Castro would recover but admitted he faced a hard struggle.

Mr Castro, 80, has not been seen in public since undergoing surgery in July and handing over political power.

Mr Chavez spoke at the Latin American summit in Brazil in a rare admission of the state of Mr Castro's health.

Chavez hopeful

Venezuela's president said he spoke to the Cuban leader by telephone for half an hour several days ago.

I hope he lives 80 more years, I hope he lives 100 more years
Hugo Chavez
Venezuelan president
"He is going through a difficult situation but just like he says, the machine that they have to fix is 80 years old," Mr Chavez told the Mercosur trade summit.

"I cannot give details [of his health] because I am not his doctor, and even if I was I would not give them to you.

"He's back in the Sierra Maestra and locked in a battle for his life," Mr Chavez said.

The Sierra Maestra is a rugged mountain range in south-east Cuba with a long history of guerrilla warfare.

After Fidel Castro returned to Cuba from exile in Mexico, he and his fellow rebels hid out in the Sierra Maestra from where they were able to expand their 26 July Movement, building up their guerrilla forces and starting the revolution which in 1959 overthrew the regime led by Fulgencio Batista.

"There are those who want Fidel to die... [but] we have confidence he will recover completely.

"I don't know when Fidel will die, I hope he lives 80 more years, I hope he lives 100 more years."

'Slow recovery'

There have been steady reports suggesting that Mr Castro's condition is extremely serious.

In an interview with the Reuters news agency, Dr Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido, head of surgery at Madrid's Gregorio Maranon public hospital, described Mr Castro's recovery as "slow but progressive".

Dr Garcia Sabrido examined the Cuban leader late last year.

Earlier this week a Spanish newspaper quoted medical sources as saying Mr Castro opted for a risky medical procedure that led to grave complications.

Chavez describes Castro's condition as 'delicate'


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