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Last Updated: Friday, 13 April 2007, 20:50 GMT 21:50 UK
Castro almost better, Chavez says
Fidel Castro. Picture issued 28 October 2006.
Mr Castro has not been seen in public since surgery in July
Cuban leader Fidel Castro is "almost totally recovered" from intestinal surgery last year, his ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said.

The 80-year-old Cuban president had resumed a good part of his duties, Mr Chavez told journalists in Caracas.

Mr Castro has not been seen in public since July 2006, when he handed power to his brother Raul.

His continued absence from politics has fuelled speculation about the seriousness of his condition.

Mr Castro's health is treated as a state secret in Cuba, but Mr Chavez has offered a number of updates on his ally in recent months.

'Marked improvement'

"Almost totally recovered is the very reliable information that I keep receiving," Mr Chavez told a news conference in the Venezuelan capital.

"The information that keeps emerging, his notes, his voice on the telephone, show a marked improvement (in his health)," he said.

"He has taken back a good part of government functions, but, of course, not formally."

In recent weeks, Mr Castro has written two newspaper articles criticising US policy on biofuels.

Analysts say these articles - in the Communist Party's official newspaper Granma - could be a sign of a return to active politics.

Officials in Cuba insist it is only a matter of time before Mr Castro resumes office.

And in late February, Mr Castro himself gave a live broadcast on Mr Chavez' daily radio programme, telling listeners that he was "gaining ground".

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